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┬áit.

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).

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