What I Watched: December 2013


Whoa. So, that was 2013. I’ve watched so many films over the Christmas break that I think I ran out of capacity to watch any more… for, oh, at least a day. Here are the three films I liked most this month:

Pain & Gain

Unexpectedly, Michael Bay’s (relatively) low budget action movie about a real-life gang was kind of brilliant? I know the likes of Mark Kermode have called it evil, pornographic, and other hyperbolic things, but I think they missed the point. This is an angry film, a bitter condemnation of the American dream, or at least the perverted version of it the Sun Gym gang were chasing. It almost makes me want to re-evaluate Michael Bay’s previous films… but, uh, I probably won’t. This is way smarter and more political than it looks, though. It’s kind of shocking. (And what’s even more shocking is that the BBFC only gave it a 15 rating. What do you need to do to get an 18 nowadays?)


Maybe what you need to do to get an 18 is include depictions of consensual gay sex, because this gorgeous, low key, low budget British romance got one. It’s a fairly simple film, really, just following two men as they meet and spend a weekend together, but oh, God, it hits you where it hurts. It’s got a political edge, too, but what makes it special is how believable the romance is. All those awkward looks and touches, all those careful conversations, all that lust, it’s just breathtaking.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

This is one that’s grown on me, oddly. I saw it back in August and liked it, but in the months since then I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot, and how its reception reflects our culture’s idea of what’s an acceptable power narrative and what isn’t. And so I bought a US DVD to see it again. Yeah, it’s a little silly, but it’s got so many great ideas and such an interesting world than I couldn’t help falling for it a bit.

And the rest

Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (typical moralising Tyler Perry rubbish); Scavengers (ugh); Insidous (still scary); Atlantic Rim (exactly as bad as you’d expect); The Starving Games (terrible); 11-11-11 (actually not as terrible as you’d think, but not great); Election (expected to love this, but really didn’t); Despicable Me 2 (cute); White Heat (over-the-top noirn nonsense); Love Wrecked (the bad kind of teen romance); The Others (brilliant, though I wish I hadn’t known so much about the plot in advance); 47 Ronin (dull); Jumper (as awful as everyone said it was); Mysterious Skin (devastating); Valentine (surprisingly stylish giallo-style slasher); The African Queen (the kind of old movie you watch on a hungover Sunday); The Brotherhood of Satan (disappointing); The Girlfriend Experience (empty); Of Human Bondage (young Bette Davis’s accent is appalling – how did she get nominated for an Oscar for this?); Willow (generic 80s fantasy); The Wicker Man (still fantastic); Santa’s Slay (a Christmas Eve tradition in my house); Jamaica Inn (an utter perversion of du Maurier’s novel, and it just doesn’t work); Tangled (delightful); Rites of Passage (intriguing but massively flawed insanity from Wes Bentley’s dark period); The Tractate Middoth (dull, boring, pointless); Hatchet for the Honeymoon (stylish but kind of boring); Curtains (ditto); Independence Day (overblown jingoistic delight); Looper (just brilliant); Frenchman’s Creek (sweet and incredibly faithful adaptation of another du Maurier novel); I Am Number Four (mildly silly teen action stuff); Rogue (decent-ish creature feature); Black Sunday (disappointingly incoherent gothic gorgeousness); Darklands (a confused Welsh Wicker Man); Predators (fun but cliched silliness); The Thirteenth Tale (another awfully dull BBC ghost story – without a ghost).

And that’s a whole year’s worth of film-watching. I think I’ll figure out a different way to write about film next year; this has been kind of fun, but probably only for me. I dunno. We’ll see. For now – happy New Year! Hope your 2014 gets off to a brilliant start.

What I Watched: November 2013


I’m kind of in denial about the fact that it’s the end of November. I’ve done most of my Christmas shopping, and I love the festivities, so that’s not a problem, I just… can’t quite believe 2013 is nearly over already? It seems like it’s barely started. Ugh.

My to-do list is ridiculously long right now, so this’ll be a quick one. Here are the three best films I watched this month:

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I’m a Hunger Games fangirl, I can’t deny it. I loved the books, loved the first movie, and so unsurprisingly, I loved this movie, too. I wasn’t entirely sold on Sam Claflin’s Finnick, but Jena Malone as Johanna Mason was everything I could have hoped for and more. She made the movie for me. Well, her, and the fact that it pushed all of my emotional buttons. I just sobbed all the way through it on first watch, and had to go back to see it all again.


Underground came in a 3-for-£3 box of low budget horror movies and I wasn’t expecting much from it, but it was a surprisingly well constructed and clever horror movie, with some properly nasty scares. Which just goes to show that you really really can’t ever judge a horror movie by its box.

Hocus Pocus

This was a hangover from Halloween. I try never to let a Halloween go by without revisiting Hocus Pocus, and I always adore it, no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

And the rest

I Know What You Did Last Summer (worse than I remembered); Skew (basically the wobbly photo device from Ring dragged out to tedious length); The Bay (a rewatch; still pretty good but not great); Pieta (not my favourite Kim Ki Duk movie but still strong); Behind the Candelabra (deeply depressing); Pacific Rim (I can’t put this in my top three again but I love it more every time I watch it); Sleepwalker (a forgotten 80s curio that should’ve stayed forgotten); Kiss Me Deadly (bonkers); Evil Breed (rubbish); Big Fat Liar (surprisingly delightful); What A Girl Wants (dull); The Lodge (abominable).

What I Watched: October 2013

black death

What happened to cinema this Halloween? It doesn’t seem right that there’s no big horror film out this weekend. For years, the big Halloween event film was a Saw sequel, then it was a Paranormal Activity sequel, but then this year, nothing. Nada. Blumhouse Productions dropped the ball by not having Paranormal Activity 5 ready to go – even their spinoff, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, isn’t due out until January.

Several fantastic horror movies came out over the summer, including The Purge and The Conjuring, but October is a complete dead zone, at least in the UK. In America, the Carrie remake is out, but here we’ve got weeks to wait for that. At one point I think the new Hammer film, The Quiet Ones, was going to be out this week, but that got pushed back to some point next year too.

The only new horror movie out this Halloween is The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, a film that’s as confused and pointless as its title. The only bright spot is that the BFI Gothic season is showing some amazing films all over the country over the next few months, but as brilliant as Nosferatu is, somehow I can’t get as excited about that as I would about a brand new horror film.

Bah. Maybe the complete lack of decent new horror films explains why I’m enjoying American Horror Story: Asylum so much. It’s totally bonkers and completely addictive. And horrifying. It’s better than pretty much every film I’ve watched over the last month, but here’s my roundup anyway, starting with the three best films I saw in October:

Black Death

I hate witch trial movies. I find it kind of gross that we tell stories, supposedly based on real-life witch trials, in which ‘witches’ really do have evil supernatural powers and need to be killed. Because real witch trials were just about killing women in various horrendous ways out of fear and ignorance, so making movies about those women which justifies their murders based on some magic bullshit makes me kind of angry. It’s got to the point where I’m afraid to even rewatch Hocus Pocus, which is one of my favourite Halloween movies, because I think it’s gonna piss me off.

Black Death, then, kind of delighted me. It’s about a group of supposedly Christian soldiers – all murderers and torturers of various types – who set off to find a rumoured village that’s escaped the plague. They think that the reason no-one from the village is getting ill must be because the village’s leaders are in league with the devil – it’s even suggested that this village might be the source of the illness. When they get there, though, it turns out that’s not quite what’s going on…

The film threatens to tip over into magical bullshit several times, but it never quite does. And though the first two thirds are fairly dull and super heavy-handed on the exposition, the final reel is just brilliant. It’s almost Wicker Man-esque in the way it pits two different types of belief against each other, and ends by suggesting that actually, no-one is right… but murder is definitely, definitely wrong.

It could have done with a bit more character development, and the visual style is pretty ugly, with its all brown colour palette, but that ending is so satisfying I’m willing to forgive all that. It’s not quite the witch trial movie I’d like someone to make – an angry feminist story told from the perspective of a ‘witch’? – but it’s pretty good anyway.

Ghost Team One

A kind of spoof on Paranormal Activity and its ilk that’s actually played, for the most part, pretty straight – it’s just that the ghost is summoned by sexual energy, and the two leads are a pair of selfish idiots. Throw in a homicidal third housemate and a gorgeous ghosthunter with her own bizarre motives for wanting to make contact with the dead and you get… something so ridiculous, so over the top, and so funny that Paranormal Activity is never gonna look interesting again. Some of the semi-improvised jokes tip over the edge of taste, but it’s got an anarchic energy it’s tough not to be charmed by it.

The Lords of Salem

Picking a third movie for this list was difficult. I probably should’ve just gone with Ghostbusters, although I think I was in a weird mood when I rewatched it because it didn’t seem as charming as it used to. So I’m going with The Lords of Salem, which I’ve now seen three times, despite not particularly loving it. It’s got… something. It doesn’t feel like a Rob Zombie movie, for starters. My point about hating witch trial movies above stands, but I think Zombie is trying to say something interesting about gender in this movie. It’s just a bit inarticulate.

I think the reason I keep rewatching it is that I’m trying to tease out something coherent from it, but it’s so contradictory and nonsensical that I can never quite feel satisfied with it. Are the witches meant to represent something? Some dark side to femininity that’s been forcibly repressed through the ages? The relative uselessness of the male characters in the movie supports that, but even when Heidi, the film’s protagonist, gives in to her inner darkness and appears to reach a moment of triumph, hundreds of other innocent women die? For no apparent reason? It’s bewildering.

And the rest

The Bling Ring (predictably vacuous); Ghostquake (like an extra long episode of Goosebumps); Double Indemnity (super stylish with amazing dialogue); House of Bones (daft); Would You Rather (better than the cover art suggests but still not very good, with an overly telegraphed yet nonsensical ending); The Colony (fun apocalyptic thriller); It’s A Boy Girl Thing (startlingly crude bodyswap comedy); Battle of the Damned (painfully dull); Ice Cream Man (just say no); Labor Pains (just not funny enough to make up for the fact the writer has clearly never had a real job); Material Girls (like Labor Pains but somehow worse); Ghostbusters (probably ruined by my lack of affection for Bill Murray).

What I Watched: September 2013

The Witches

It’s been a terrible month of movies for me. Partly that’s because I didn’t see many – between Den of Eek!, that Raindance panel, the new series of The Great British Bake-Off, and Justified season 4 coming out on DVD, I’ve been busy with other things. But partly it’s that the the films I did watch were almost uniformly terrible. Here are three highlights:

The Witches

No, not the Roald Dahl one, I’m talking about the 1966 Hammer Horror one. It’s utterly brilliant and I’m kind of surprised that no-one’s ever recommended it to me before now. Joan Fontaine stars as a teacher who, after a horrifying experience with a witch doctor in Africa, takes a quiet job as headmistress in a small rural town in England to try to recuperate. Unfortunately for her, she hasn’t quite managed to leave the occult behind…

People tend to associate Hammer with high camp nowadays, and there is something almost deliriously camp about the black mass scene, but the movie as a whole has a brilliantly uneasy atmosphere. It sort of reminded me a bit of The Wicker Man; it’s got the same combination of an apparently cosy rural setting, pagan magic, and an absurd sense of humour. It deserves to be rediscovered.

Carnival of Souls

This is a stone cold classic and if you haven’t seen it, go get yourself a copy. I finally treated myself to the Criterion edition with all the bells and whistles, and it arrived on a day I was planning to watch Sharknado. I got twenty minutes into that before deciding life’s too short for that kind of shit and replacing it with Carnival of Souls. Which was absolutely the right decision. It’s so good.

She’s The Man

This is here kind of grudgingly, because it’s honestly the best other thing I watched this month, though I probably wouldn’t go above three stars for it. It’s from the era of teen movies when teen movies were amazing, and though it’s not the best in the genre, it’s a lot of fun.

And everything else

Contracted (horrible, victim-blamey nonsense); No One Lives (generic slasher); Stalled (meh); Footloose (reasonably fun but mostly because of Miles Teller); Darkness Falls (terrible in that boring bland early 2000s way); Key Largo (not enough Lauren Bacall by half); Thanatomorphose (it’d be a waste of film but it wasn’t shot on film, so); A Matter of Life and Death (meh); Burlesque (glitzy and stupid, but in a fun way); The Haunting in Connecticut (dull); The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (still dull); Dark Ride (a promising premise but ultimately pretty rubbish); Bachelorette (one of the most misanthropic “comedies” I’ve ever seen); The Resident (shit).

The market for horror films

The Market For Horror Films screencapped

I was on a panel at Raindance last night! Which was pretty exciting. Along with Alan Jones, James Moran, and Julian Richards, I was there to talk about – well, the market for horror films, and since I’ve helpfully screencapped the page from the Raindance festival website which explains what it was about, I won’t repeat the description here.

Because the panel tended to focus more on the distribution side of making a movie than the press/PR side, I didn’t get to say an awful lot last night. But here are a few thoughts I had on making an indie horror movie that’ll stand out (and hopefully get you some good coverage/reviews):

  • Work with your resources
    If you’re on a low budget, you might not be able to do everything you’d ideally like to do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a good movie. Most of the genre-defining horror movies of the last decade have been low budget. (It depends on your definition of “low budget”, but Saw was made for about $1 million, while Paranormal Activity reportedly cost just $15,000, so, y’know.) You just have to figure out what you can do with your money: what locations you can access, what favours you can call in, and what skills you have.
  • Write an amazing script
    Easier said than done, maybe, but writing a great story costs you nothing but time. All too often, the script is what lets down indie movies, and there’s no real excuse for it. Work on your dialogue, make sure your story holds up, and have a fantastic ending. It’s amazing how many other flaws can be forgiven if your script is really, really great.
  • Take risks
    The advantage you’ve got over someone making a studio picture is that there isn’t anyone telling you what you can’t do. You’re probably not gonna get extensive producer’s notes on your script. So do what you want to do. Make a film you’re really really passionate about. The film that I keep thinking about, when it comes to brilliant indie horror movies, is Excision. That film is totally uncompromising and that’s why it’s great.
  • Get the best cast you can
    You probably can’t afford to hire name actors (though if your script is good enough and you’re willing to work around them, you might find some big names are willing to work on the cheap) but try to at least find someone halfway convincing. Your amazing dialogue will sound terrible if your actors are useless.
  • Make it look awesome
    Again, easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. Think about your shots. Don’t film stuff for the sake of it. Way too many micro-budget movies are full of irrelevant padding shots and scenes that do nothing other than slowing down the narrative and boring your audience. Don’t do that. And for the love of God, don’t put crappy filters on your digital footage to try to make it look like film. It’ll look better without it.

The other thing I’ll say, which is something we said last night, is that it’s really really important to have a stills photographer on set, at least some of the time. If you don’t have any decent images, you’re gonna struggle when it comes to promoting your film – which includes when you’re sending it to sales agents, when you’re submitting it to festivals, and when you’re trying to get websites or magazines to review it. Pictures are really, really important, and screenshots from the film absolutely will not cut it.

I didn’t mean that to sound as negative as it did. I’ve seen a hell of a lot of really great indie horror films over the last few years, and I’ve also seen some not-so-great ones for sale in Tesco in shiny shiny boxes, so I believe both that it’s possible to make a great indie horror and that it’s possible to get distribution for indie horror. And nothing would make me happier than discovering the next amazing low budget horror phenomenon, so, y’know. Get on and make it, yeah?

Thank you to everyone who came to Den of Eek! 2 Urban Legends

wordpress den of eekIt’s getting dark outside and I’ve only just shaken off enough of my hangover to write anything about last night. But despite the pounding headache, I’ve been in an insufferably good mood. Because last night, I hosted the second Den of Eek! event, and I think… I think it might even have been better than the first one.

Like last year, I invited a bunch of awesome people to come and tell original scary stories to an audience by candlelight. We used the same venue and the same set up: just a stage, a microphone, and a bunch of chairs, but this time the brief was slightly different. Rather than doing ghost stories, like last year, we asked everyone to come up with an original take on an urban legend. The stories they wrote were brilliant, terrifying, gruesome, funny… and deeply, deeply creepy.

We kicked off with Aliya Whiteley’s megamix of urban legends, followed by Chris Farnell’s cautionary tale about GM foods. Natasha Duncan-Drake came back from last year to tell us not to step on the cracks in the pavement, Neil Jones also returned with a warning to would-be petsitters, and Sarah Ditum told us an absolutely true story about something she found in the basement of her new house. To finish off the first half, Tom Pollock read a story about a mysterious key than unlocks more than just doors, and Joff Brown, another Eek! veteran, explained that a little imagination is a dangerous thing…

After a short break, Clayton Littlewood read the night’s most shocking story – one of the highlights of the night, for me, was watching the expressions on people’s faces during this one. James Moran passed on an evil curse; Rosie Fletcher’s tale of sex and revenge was sleazy and gross (in a good way!) and Sarah Pinborough made everyone scared to take the bus home. James Brogden’s story about a university prank gone wrong was funny right up until the horrifying punchline, and Kit Allen’s Halloween history lesson was eerily fitting, given the location. Finally, James Henry’s amazing meta explanation of where urban legends come from brought the house down.

I knew all the stories were good because I’d read them beforehand, so that I could put together the running order, but they really came alive out loud. Last year, I think I was too nervous about keeping everything running smoothly that I didn’t get to really enjoy listening to the stories, but this year – despite a few teething troubles with the microphone! – I felt a bit more confident that it was all going to work out, and, self-congratulatory though it might sound, I had a really good time.

One thing that I really, really love about this event is that many of the people who read stories hadn’t done it before. Some of them don’t even write fiction very often, and certainly don’t share it in public when they do. But they went for it, and – I think? – enjoyed themselves as much as we enjoyed their stories. Somehow, everyone I’ve asked to be a part of this has turned out not only to be smart and talented, but also fun and friendly and easy to work with. The atmosphere backstage is always brilliant – and I think that comes across to the audience, too?

Obviously the ultimate goal of Den of Eek! is to raise money for charity, and since this was another sold out event, we raised another massive chunk of cash for the Geeks vs Cancer appeal. I’ve thanked all of the performers from last night (many times over!), but if you came along, bought a ticket, or even chucked in a few quid’s donation, you deserve a thank you too. You’re brilliant.

We’ll be putting together an ebook of the stories soon, and I’ll be shouting about that when it happens, but in the meantime, if you didn’t get round to buying last year’s, maybe you’d like to pick up a copy now? It’s on offer right now, so it’s a mega bargain, and all proceeds go to a good cause.

What I Watched: August 2013

kaiju blue

August has been a weird kind of month. Usually – since about 2006 – August has meant one thing for me: FrightFest. I decided not to go this year, though, and instead spent the Bank Holiday weekend cleaning my flat and being ill. I also spent a lot of time re-watching movies I’d already seen, and most of the new films I saw weren’t very good, so picking my favourites was kind of difficult. Still, here’s the best of the bunch:

Pacific Rim

Yeah, I actually saw Pacific Rim last month, too, and didn’t pick it as one of my favourites of the month then. For some reason, though, the film kept nagging at me, and I ended up going to see it again before it finished its theatrical run. And that second watch made me really, really love it.

The first time, I enjoyed Pacific Rim for its scale: it’s about huge monsters and huge robots, and everything about it is kind of bombastic, including the dialogue. (The “cancelling the apocalypse” speech, as featured in the trailer, is a great example of that, but there’s plenty more where that came from, including a line about “fighting the hurricane” in the opening crawl.) It’s full of action, big action, and my first watch was a joyful experience, though I assumed it was just a big dumb popcorn movie. The second time, though, I paid more attention to the film’s smaller details, and appreciated more of its depth.

One thing I really liked about it is its sense of history. It would’ve been easy to start the story at the point when the first kaiju emerged from the ocean; we could’ve seen how the jaeger program came about, how the first pilots failed, how the drift technology was created, and ended on a note of triumph when we started winning those fights. But Pacific Rim doesn’t do that. It’s set a few years in the future, a few years into the kaiju war, and all of its characters are battle-scarred. They’ve all lost someone. They’re all damaged. But they fight anyway. There’s something deeply sad, but deeply hopeful at the heart of the film. It’s a more optimistic apocalypse movie than we’re used to: in the face of monsters, humanity bands together to fight, rather than squabbling amongst ourselves. It’s a deeply earnest film, and if it doesn’t have much of a sense of humour, well, I can deal with that in exchange for a complete lack of irony.

I still wish there’d been more female characters, and that the Russians had got more screen time, but Mako Mori is such an awesome heroine I can almost forgive it for that.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Not the original. The remake. Yup. I’ve been avoiding it for years, assuming it would be terrible, like every other horror remake doing the rounds at the moment. But it’s not. It’s dark, and disturbing, and it digs down right into the character of Freddy Krueger. It examines why he’s horrifying and tells his story from a new and horrible perspective. I love the original as much as anyone, but it’s a bit silly, and it kind of glosses over the nastiness of Freddy’s origin story. This one doesn’t. It’s unflinching. There’s some crap CGI, and everything’s a bit too blue, but as remakes go, I thought this was pretty great.

The Wicker Man

This time I do mean the original, and I promise I’ll never defend the remake. I went to see the Final Cut on the big screen, and although some of the footage still looked kind of grainy and damaged to me, it’s a brilliant film, and has one of the most unsettling final scenes of any movie ever made. Brrrrrrr.

And everything else

Despicable Me (I almost never watch animation, but this was adorable); Smiley (internet horror that’s good on the net, not so good on the horror); The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse (meh); Silver Linings Playbook (something of a disappointment); Scream, Blacula, Scream (zzz); Bram Stoker’s Dracula (I want to love it but I just can’t); The Master (beautiful but cold); Come Out And Play (competent but pointless); The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (better than everyone says it is, but maybe only a three star movie); Insidious Chapter 2 (massively awful); The Tall Man (three acts of three different movies?); The Last Exorcism: Part II (20 minutes of interesting stuff followed by a ton of incoherent nonsense); Curandero (dated); Asylum (not bad); Mama (really dated, blue-filtered J-horror wannabe crap); Sinister (still creepy, even on a rewatch); Scary Movie 5 (no thank you); Needle (generic); The Task (rubbish); Vlog (rubbish); Wind Chill (enraging rubbish); Byzantium (still great, even on a second viewing); Rapture Palooza (kind of funny but mostly pointless).

It’s baaaaaack: Den of Eek! Urban Legends

Den of Eek poster smallHey, remember when I hosted a night of spooky storytelling last year and spent the whole night being so terrified I thought I was going to throw up on my shoes? Well, it was so much fun I’m doing it again.

Seriously, last year’s Den of Eek! was awesome. A bunch of incredibly talented storytellers gathered together in a basement bar in central London to read original horror fiction to an increasingly creeped out audience, and the whole thing was just brilliant fun. We also raised a ton of money for charity, which is always good. So that’s the bit we’re doing again.

Last year’s event was all about ghost stories, but we didn’t want to repeat ourselves, so this year we’re doing urban legends. You know. Stories about the weird but absolutely true thing that definitely happened to your sister’s boyfriend’s brother. Stories about things they don’t want you to know. Stories that’ll make you shiver, and think, and look nervously over your shoulder all the way home.

Like last time, we’ve got a bunch of amazing people writing stories for the event: Sarah Pinborough, James Moran, Tom Pollock, Neil Jones, James Henry, Rosie Fletcher, Sarah Ditum, James Brogden, Natasha Duncan-Drake, Joff Brown, Aliya Whiteley, and Clayton Littlewood. (Yes, there are three Jameses, and three Sarahs, including me. It wasn’t intentional.) Also, like last time, we’re opening up some slots for new talent, and you’ve got just over a week left to enter that competition if you haven’t already.

So, yeah, the important bits: it’s going to be on Wednesday 18 September at 7.30pm, at the Phoenix on Cavendish Square. Tickets won’t be available on the door, so you will have to book in advance. They cost £5 (plus a booking fee) and all proceeds go to charity. And you can buy your tickets here. So, do that, maybe?

One last thing – the amazingly gorgeous poster art was created by James Freckingham, of Robotic Industries. He’s brilliant.

What I watched: July 2013


Another month has flown by, and yet, as always, I seem to have made time to watch an awful lot of crap horror movies. Having access to Netflix is definitely bad for me. I already know I can’t be trusted around cheap horror DVDs, so when I’ve got access to hundreds of free (well, individually free, obviously Netflix costs money) movies… I watch dreadful things. I’ll never get over the thrill of not knowing when the next movie I watch will turn out to be brilliant, though.

Anyway. Here’s this month’s summary, starting with the three best things I watched this month:

The Conjuring

This was my most anticipated film of the year, and luckily it didn’t just live up to my expectations – it exceeded them, in every possible way. I love James Wan as a filmmaker, but all of his previous efforts are flawed in one way or another. I loved Insidious for its sense of fun and terror, but its handling of its characters is a mess, and I was sort of hoping The Conjuring would be better on that front. It is. It sets up characters and develops them properly, rather than getting distracted and swapping protagonists halfway through. Interestingly, too, for a James Wan film, it’s all about the female characters, and they’re never overshadowed by the men. The central couple have a believable and adorable relationship, and the family in the haunted house are plausible, cute, and nowhere near as stupid as families in their circumstances usually are. It’s actually pretty well written.

It’s also, improbably, even scarier than Insidious. The scares are relentless; once it gets going, it never lets up, but it doesn’t feel like it’s bludgeoning you with fear. Instead, it’s like it’s playing a game with you – one that you’re in on. It’s immensely enjoyable to hear the music building to a crescendo, knowing a scare is coming, and letting it make you jump. While the basic story is fairly predictable, the way in which it unfolds is so tense it doesn’t feel boring. There’s no time to be bored. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a cinema for years and years and I kind of want to go again this weekend when it’s released for real.

Apparently, The Conjuring broke box office records – it made more money than any other original R-rated horror movie ever, a record which was actually set quite recently by The Purge. Although that might seem like an overly specific achievement to be celebrating, it also seems like really, really good news for horror fans. If R-rated original horror makes money, that means we’re gonna get more of it. Maybe we’ll see filmmakers being allowed to take more risks, rather than churning out endless sequels, remakes, and adaptations. Admittedly, both The Conjuring and The Purge are quite low budget films, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, either – because they’re both brilliant. I’m feeling really optimistic about horror right now.

Written on the Wind

I want to be Lauren Bacall when I grow up. She’s just unspeakably brilliant in everything. Here, as a secretary at an advertising firm where everyone falls in love with her, she’s luminous. And that voice! She always seems super intelligent and strong as well as sexy, and she gets some amazing dialogue to play with here. I wanted to quote all of it, from “the Kyle Hadley Society for the Prevention of Boredom” to “a whiskey bottle’s about all you’d kill,” it’s all just perfect. Rock Hudson seems like a sort of proto-Don Draper to Robert Stack’s proto-Roger Sterling, and Dorothy Malone as the scheming, tragic, horrible Marylee is just impeccable. If it weren’t for the fact that everything goes horribly wrong for everyone in the course of this movie, I’d want to climb into the screen and live there. Everything about it is brilliant, but the dialogue, and Lauren Bacall, are the real stars.

Shadow of the Vampire

Someone recommended this to me in the comments of my list of 50 genuinely creepy horror movies over on Den of Geek, and while I didn’t find it especially creepy, I absolutely loved it anyway. There’s something – and this word is gonna seem incongruous, but – delightful about it. It’s got a wicked sense of humour, and the visual callbacks to Nosferatu made me giddy. It’s just brilliant. I feel like an idiot for never having seen this film before, because it’s more than earned itself a place in my heart. I thought that maybe having Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck would be distracting, but he was unrecognisable. He could’ve been Max Schreck; the makeup was astounding. The only really distracting bit of casting was Cary Elwes, but luckily he wasn’t in it much.

And everything else

A Field in England (meh), Borderland (generic), The Lords of Salem (better than I remembered), Torture Garden (meh), The Vault of Horror (meh), Compliance (more interesting in fact than fiction), Fantastic Voyage (surprisingly trippy), The Big Sleep (amazing, amazing dialogue), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (kinda boring), The Frozen Ground (meh), Notorious (too Hitchcocky), Monsters University (super cute), The Moth Diaries (dull), Pacific Rim (loads of fun but lacking in characters, especially female ones), The Clairvoyant (wonderful), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (overlong but lovely), Mr Sardonicus (brilliant), Dracula 2000 (fun in a nostalgic kind of way), and V/H/S (beyond terrible).