#31HorrorFilms31Days 2020: A Frank Post-Mortem

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2020 the Movie from my Laptop’s Perspective

Every October I watch at least 31 horror films. I tweet about each film, but here are my more in-depth thoughts on what I watched. Here’s what I watched this year in the order that I watched them:

Arbitrary Awards:

Most Liked Tweet: In Search of Darkness

This was almost a tie, but In Search of Darkness stole the show at the last moment with 9 likes, 5 comments, and 1 retweet thanks to some of the filmmakers noticing the tweet.

Best Film to Play a Drinking Game To: Fantasy Island

…because you will need alcohol to get through it. The drinking game has only one prompt: drink whenever someone says fantasy. Trust me when I say that is all you need.

The Boy Award: The Invisible Man

The Boy Award is given annually to a movie that shocks me enough to turn me into this gif:

Image result for surprised meme

The Invisible Man has a scene that literally had me drop my jaw for about a minute. I have not had a movie shock me that much in a long time – so much so it took me a few minutes to realize the scene actually happened and wasn’t some cheap nightmare sequence cop out.

My Wife’s Ranking

My wife is not a horror film fan, but has shown an increasing interest in watching the films with me. And this is a banner year because she enjoyed enough movies to make a top 9 list with a few honorable mentions to boot. And we aligned on our top choice!

  1. The Invisible Man
  2. Ready or Not
  3. Scare Me
  4. One Cut of the Dead
  5. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
  6. Brahms: The Boy II
  7. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
  8. Doctor Sleep
  9. Crawl

Honorable Mentions:
Blood Quantum – Only saw about 40-50% of this one because I was working but I liked what I saw. I suspect if I had been able to watch the whole thing this would round out my list to a top 10.

Tigers are Not Afraid -This was pretty good, but I didn’t like it quite as much as the ones that made my list, and I think it’s pretty borderline whether this could be considered a horror movie.

The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula Resurrection – Loved this but it definitely wasn’t a horror movie.

What’s a Horror Film Anyway?: Tigers Are Not Afraid

Do not get me wrong, I LOVED this movie and the subject matter is indeed horrific. I just wouldn’t consider it a horror movie. To me, this is a thriller with a lot of magic realism with horror elements and moments. It reminds me a lot of Pan’s Labyrinth. So great movie (just like Overlord last year), but one I felt a tad guilty about counting on my list.

Interestingly enough, I could see someone arguing La Llorona is not a horror film, but the constant threat of violence and supernatural dread in that one definitely made it feel like a horror film to me.

Worst Film: Brahms: The Boy II

This film was so generic and boring it “won out” as the worst despite how offensively bad I found other films.

Best Film: The Invisible Man

This will be getting its own post, but this is one of the best films I have seen in a long time. It was perfectly crafted, and managed to combine an interesting social commentary with breakneck thrills and chills. It also did one of the most surprising things I have ever seen in a film (hence winning the annual The Boy Award). Elizabeth Moss was brilliant. I could go on and on but just go check it out if you haven’t already.

Ranking of All the Films in Order of Best to Worst

This is based primarily on how entertaining I personally found the film, but I also factor in if I would rewatch it and/or show it to friends. This is NOT a ranking of which films I think are artistically the best or most important to the genre or anything like that. So please don’t @ me for ranking trash above artistic treasure.

This excludes the nonfiction films The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula Resurrection and In Search of Darkness. It also excludes the three films I rewatched (Hocus Pocus, Halloween 2018, Ghostwatch).

  1. The Invisible Man
  2. Ready or Not
  3. One Cut of the Dead
  4. Tales From the Hood
  5. Revenge
  6. Tigers Are Not Afraid
  7. La Llorona
  8. Blood Quantum
  9. Spiral
  10. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
  11. Host
  12. Crawl
  13. The Grudge (2020)
  14. Blacula
  15. Haunt
  16. Theatre of Blood
  17. Satan’s Slaves
  18. Scare Me
  19. Knife + Heart
  20. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
  21. Doctor Sleep
  22. Bit
  23. Tales From the Hood II
  24. Fantasy Island
  25. WNUF Halloween Special
  26. Countdown
  27. Confessional
  28. The Babysitter
  29. Zombi Child
  30. Brahms: The Boy II

Without further ado, here are more detailed descriptions of some of the films:

Tales From the Hood

Tales from the Hood (1995) - IMDb

I wanted to check this out after watching Horror Noire and I’m so glad I did. I’m not a huge fan of Tales from the Crypt style morality stories, but the complex messaging in this movie is really insightful and sadly as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. It is definitely worth a watch or revisit if you have not seen it. Unfortunately, Tales From the Hood II doesn’t pull off the careful balance of horror, humor, and social commentary this one does, but I’ve heard promising things about the third installment.

Revenge

I was extremely reluctant to watch this because of it being a rape revenge movie. But after listening to a complete summary of the film from the wonderful Women In Caskets podcast and learning it was created by a female director/writer, I decided to give it a chance and I’m so glad I did. It is heavily stylized and fantastical with a very cathartic revenge sequence it spends majority of the run time focusing on.

La Llorona

La llorona (2019) - IMDb

The political turmoil in this one was especially dread-inducing in 2020. It really creates palpable fear and tension without cheap jump scares. It revolves around the family of an aging war criminal who is literally and figuratively getting haunted by his past transgressions, and it is satisfying to watch him be unable to escape justice. I will say the ending was a little abrupt and seemed to let a complicit family member off the hook, but overall this is a really solid, effective horror movie.

Blood Quantum

Not another zombie movie! But yet again here is a zombie movie that manages to give you the gore and chaos of a zombie apocalypse with a neat twist. Once I realized what this movie was doing with the Native characters and the titular blood quantum, I realized there was a bit of new life to breathe into this subgenre after all.

Spiral

Described as a sort of “gay Get Out“, I enjoyed this film for some of its creepy cult moments and its focus on an interracial gay male couple. There is a pretty frustrating character decision early on in the film, but aside from that there’s a lot to enjoy about this.

The Grudge (2020)

Oh reboot…you had so much going for you! Neat idea, solid direction, great cast, and a solid franchise to build on. I find myself wanting to defend this movie because of how much I love the original American remake of Ju-On: The Grudge, but I really have no defense to give. It has some really disturbing moments, but it also seems to mistake being depressing for being scary. The nasty moments in this movie remind me of badly written creepypasta penned by a thirteen-year-old who thinks “and then he STABBED his PREGNANT wife with SCISSORS” is peak horror literature.

Blacula

Another film I wanted to watch after seeing Horror Noire. I was surprised to learn this was directed by a Black man who gives Prince Mamuwalde/Blacula a surprising amount of dignity for a blaxploitation film about a vampire. Monster movies are not really my thing, but I’m glad I watched this one.

Haunt

Oh Haunt…as someone who went to college in southern Illinois this is how I assume all haunted houses in downstate Illinois operate. It cracked me up to see it was set in Carbondale specifically. This is a fun, dumb teen horror film. I liked some of what it did, but it has some of the most egregiously frustrating character decisions I have ever seen. It seems to have been purposely written to cause you to yell advice at the characters only to inevitably shake your head in frustration when they do dumb things. But if you are watching this with some friends and adult beverages you will have a good time. It is superior to the eerily similar Hell Fest.

Theatre of Blood

I almost turned this one off because the beginning was such a hot, weird mess. Then I realized what it was doing and I’m glad I stuck with it. Vincent Price is perfect as a demented Shakespearean actor seeking vengeance on his critics by reenacting murders from various Shakespearean plays. Including a murder at a wine tasting which seems like a great way to go if you have to be murdered! He also randomly has a bunch of henchmen thanks to the homeless people who move into the burned down theatre he uses as a home base for his revenge.

Knife + Heart

This is a weird movie. A giallo set in the 70s about a murderer targeting a gay male porn studio run by a queer woman trying to win back her ex-girlfriend, but with the sensibilities of a 70s Italian movie as opposed to a modern horror film. I was impressed by how authentic it felt as a 70s giallo, but there is a pretty uncomfortable sexual assault between two women that really spoiled my enjoyment of the film. I get that this was written like a 70s film, but…it didn’t have to be? So I’m not sure why this was included. But if you like giallos or queer horror movies this one is a must watch.

Bit

I enjoyed seeing a horror movie (really any movie) focused on a transgender protagonist played by a transgender person. Even more remarkable is creating a storyline that is informed by the character being trans without making it revolve around being trans. I will give massive credit where credit is due for that. And I enjoyed that Laurel’s love interest was another woman. However. The other queer characters (namely Duke and Roya) felt very inauthentic and tropey to me. I was not surprised to see this was written and directed by someone who wasn’t a queer woman. I feel like Brad Michael Elmore did a lot of work to write a trans woman well (although how authentic Laurel is as a trans woman isn’t for me to say as a cisgender one). But I don’t think he did the same amount of work when trying to write some of the other queer characters. The villains come across as strawman feminazis as a result. This is perhaps most apparent when the stinger line in the film’s intro is Duke saying “you gotta learn to respect the rules: no. fucking. boys.” That line was not only pointless to advance the story, but made me realize the main motivation for the female characters would be their relationships with men. If the script had some more eyes or rewrites, this really could have been a nuanced film. But instead I walked away with the feeling that a trans character was just Brad Michael Elmore’s way of trying to make his own work stand out – like a stepping stone to more buzz and funding for later projects. So I like the movie okay, but have some serious issues with it that made it a bit to cringy to rank higher.

The Babysitter

This one is sort of my fault. I knew I probably wasn’t going to like this. Horror comedy is not my thing (hence ranking Scare Me far lower than most viewers for example). With this film, I knew it was trying to channel 80s sex comedies by way of Satanic cult slasher, but it came across as an excuse for racist and sexist tropes and show the male gaze. Without examining any of those things or offering anything new. I was relieved when John’s character died (get it! the Black character was one of the first to die!) if only so his cringy lines that included making light of Black Lives Matter would stop. This was heavily stylized and had its moments, but ultimately relished writing every Black character as a caricature. And the expectation is we would just laugh. Or that it was okay because the other characters were playing off tropes too, but John’s entire character trope was being the Black guy. The other character tropes were not inherently tied to their race and only one other was tied to gender with Allison playing the ditzy girl. But even her character was given dignity and additional backstory. I could go on and on about why I found this movie cringy but I will just end this the way I ended my tweet about the movie: we can do better.

Conclusion

I realize those last two write ups were kind of a killjoy note to end on, but I hope they help inform viewers about some of the issues I had with these movies. Overall, I’m happy with a lot of the movies I watched this year. I really tried to seek out horror films with Black characters/creators and/or LGBTQ characters/creators, and I’m happy I did. I will continue to try and diversify my viewing habits. Till next October!

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