#31HorrorFilms31Days 2021: A Frank Post-Mortem

Just in time for Christmas, I’m finally posting my October films recap! 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: Malignant

Malignant stole the show right out the gate, probably owing in part to its polarizing impact on Twitter:

My Favorite Tweet: The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

The Boy Award: Malignant

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

Image result for surprised meme

This whole movie is the embodiment of The Boy Award. I had an idea I was getting into something unusual, but it leans into its uniqueness in ways I was not expecting. That is all for now.

My Wife’s Ranking

My wife is not a horror film fan, but has shown an increasing interest in watching the films with me. This year she had 9 she likes and an honorable mention!

“Obvs not counting Scream since I’ve seen that before, or any of the ones I didn’t appreciably watch”

  1. His House
  2. The Vigil
  3. Anything for Jackson
  4. A Quiet Place Part II
  5. Fear Street Part Three: 1666
  6. Fear Street Part One: 1994
  7. Fear Street Part Two: 1978
  8. Underwater
  9. The Retreat

Honorable Mention: Willy’s Wonderland – “This was stupid but entertaining.”

My Favorites of the Films I Watched This Year:

In the past, I’ve ranked every single movie every year aside from rewatches. And everytime I do it I start second guessing myself as I’m making it. So instead of ranking all the films, I’m going to just rank my top 15.

Even now, I’m second guessing these rankings but at least this gives a sense of what I liked the most this year.

Important disclaimer before I start getting pelted with tomatoes: this is based primarily on how entertaining I personally found the film in this particular moment in my life. This is NOT a ranking of which movies I think are the best, highest quality, or most important to genre.

TL;DR just because a movie ranks higher than another movie doesn’t mean I think it is the better movie.

This excludes Scream which was a rewatch and would obviously be the top movie:

  1. The Fear Street Trilogy (yes I’m totally cheating by bundling these together but this is my vanity press and my rules!)
  2. Halloween Kills (I’m so sorry and I will explain further down in the spoilers section)
  3. The Vigil
  4. His House
  5. The First Purge
  6. Malignant
  7. Anything for Jackson
  8. Curtains
  9. Night of the Demons
  10. Wrong Turn (2021)
  11. Underwater
  12. Willy’s Wonderland
  13. Kandisha

Without Further Ado, Here is Some Additional Commentary on Some of the Films:

*****SPOILERS AHEAD*****

The Fear Street Trilogy

These will be getting their own post, but I cannot believe how much I loved these movies. I heard such mixed reviews going into them, I had really kept my expectations as low as possible and perhaps that is partially why I was so pleasantly surprised.

I watched these all back to back on a dreary fall day while drinking pumpkin old fashions so it was also a memorable experience, and the way the storyline builds and pays off in such utterly satisfying ways is why I wanted to rank it as one trilogy.

This was directed by a woman who co-wrote the trilogy with a queer man, and their careful balance of humor, gore, scares, and homages while building our love for the characters and interest in the story is brilliant. Unlike many of the movies these are borrowing from, you will be shocked by how much you care about all these characters by the end of each film. These homage 90s slashers like Scream, late 70s/80s camp slashers, and even delve into a bit of The Witch in the final film. Each film uses different filming and editing styles to make the time periods feel sufficiently different.

Admittedly, I did not read the Fear Street books, but I like that director Leigh Janiak said she wanted to make something that would entertain the adults who grew up reading Fear Street, but would be sufficiently violent and sexual in order to make teenagers feel like they are watching something they shouldn’t be watching (much like adult horror fans like me felt when we watched 80s slashers at slumber parties).

The first film in the this trilogy did something that legitimately SHOCKED me, which is a feeling I relish in horror movies.

These movies are fun. I love creative horror films that make me feel energized by the end. Leigh Janiak wanted each movie to feel like the season finale of a TV show, and that is exactly how I felt with the building story and creative payoffs. I also love the combination of slasher killings and supernatural folklore, and the way the twists make you constantly reevaluate what you’ve already seen so far.

This movie is fun and keeps the focus on the horror and intrigue while also building on themes of gentrification, racism, and homophobia. This is the type of movie that has a message if you are paying half-attention, but never forgets it is a genre film first and foremost. Brilliant stuff.

If I had to rank them, I would say Fear Street Part Three: 1666, Fear Street Part One: 1994 , and Fear Street Part Two: 1978 would be my order of preference.

Halloween Kills

I know okay. I know this film turned Twitter into a house divided. I’m not going to argue this film’s merits and I acknowledge it has issues, but this is why I ranked it so highly.

I experienced this film in the best way possible. It was the end of a particularly intense week at work where I hosted a virtual program on behalf of nearly 50 libraries and two organizations. I booked myself a solo ticket to see this movie, and walked about two miles on a perfect fall day past decorations and falling leaves listening to a new album I was really looking forward to. My theater had a handful of other people, obviously horror fans, who jeered and laughed at the right times (even the parts that were unintentionally funny like the billionth “eViL DiEs ToNiGhT!”). I actually teared up a bit at one part which I definitely wasn’t expecting and was probably residual stress relief from work. There were trailers for two upcoming horror movies including a new Scream movie. Basically to quote Ice Cube, it was a good day.

I like that the movie itself did something different (exploring the impact of Michael on the rest of the town of Haddonfield), while still being a slasher movie through and through. I like that the filmmakers have a clear reverence for the original film, even if their approach doesn’t always translate well. The people of Haddonfield, particularly in the bar, reminded me a lot of the southern suburbs of Chicago where I grew up.

I guess when it comes down to it I enjoy a new middling Halloween sequel over a lot.

The Vigil 

I was really excited to see a horror movie based on Jewish folklore. This movie was really emotionally impactful, scary, and interesting. It reminded me of The Autopsy of Jane Doe with a bit of “obligation to stay when things are getting weird” from Last Shift. The third act is very emotionally satisfying, and I found myself really loving the protagonist of the movie. He is vulnerable and relatable. This supernatural horror pulled a lot of my favorite tricks out of the grab bag of spooky tropes. It is just good. Check it out.

His House 

This movie is fantastic and very scary. The basic premise doesn’t begin to do it justice, and some of the more dreamlike, fantastical set pieces are really brilliant. I feel like it shares a lot of DNA with The Vigil so I definitely suggest both of them. His House and The Vigil remind me of Get Out in the way they take a particular experience and marry it perfectly with an engaging horror setup.

The First Purge 

You know what you are getting into with these movies. I really liked that this one really delves into social commentary while staying true to its exploitation roots. And how much I grew to care about the characters. This really rose above its predecessors for me, and made me excited to see The Forever Purge.

Malignant & Anything for Jackson

I’m grouping these together because to different degrees of obviousness and extremes, these movies are both ridiculous. Anything for Jackson is at least somewhat earnest, and Malignant is just hilarious once you realize what it is doing. I will never forget the “Sydney, I’m adopted” moment because I live for soap opera nonsense.

Curtains & Night of the Demons

I was in a real mood for 80s horror this year, and finally watched two little gems I had heard about but had never seen.

Curtains is a great underseen slasher about a group of actresses auditioning for the lead role in a famous director’s newest work. It has a killer with a genuinely creepy mask, an unforgettable ice skating sequence, and some interesting scenes revolving around a manipulative and powerful director that makes it especially poignant viewing in the era of Me Too.

Night of the Demons…well it has a demon sucking a lipstick tube into a nipple. But it also has one of the most relatable secondary characters in horror history with Rodger. Also Angela was so stupidly entertaining before and after possession. Just a lot of cheese and fun.

Wrong Turn (2021)

I like some of the bolder choices this reimagining of the original made. At first, I was really off-put by the simplistic tropes of “hipster Millennials from the city butt heads with conservative rural rednecks.” (Although I really appreciated see a gay male couple, let alone a gay male couple featuring two men of color which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in horror). But once the movie gets into some of the jarring gore and twists, I liked it a lot more. The second half is stronger than the first, and there are some moments in the film that are so genuinely unintentionally funny I loved it even more for those flaws.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes

A disturbing movie that combines a faux serial killer documentary and found footage horror. As popular as true crime is, it has never really been my thing and I feel like this movie really taps into the sense of unease true crime gives me. This was the first of two edgelord movies I decided to watch this year, and it was so disturbing compared to my usual fair I purposely paused it every time my wife walked into the room so she wouldn’t associate me with the movie. Why I made this choice and why I watched them back to back I have no idea. 

Megan is Missing 

Ho boy. I was always curious about this movie having grown up in the age of AOL chat rooms and internet stranger dangers. I felt compelled to finally watch it after teens on TikTok made it viral again. 

Me cursing teens on TikTok for resurrecting my interest in watching this

I also learned the founder of an organization dedicated to preventing child abductions endorsed the movie. Color me intrigued. 

This movie really does make me wonder what the purpose of horror is, and why I like it. I think I can say with certainty this is an incredibly horrifying movie, but it is so grounded in an extreme, shock value depiction of the dark side of reality it is nearly unwatchable. Yes this movie will stick with you and disturb you, but it left me disgusted. 

This movie is about the way young girls are surrounded by predators, and some of those predators are even worse then others. 

This movie was ruined for me at the tail end by a gratuitous rape scene that lasts for about 3 minutes and seems to exist only for shock value. It felt like the explicit version of an after school special meant to presumably scare teens straight. It really bothered me which I guess is the point, but without getting into more details since I don’t want to continue to think of this movie, I really didn’t feel it was necessary.

This movie made me feel gross, and I’m still unsure it succeeds in any way beyond shocking viewers. 

Needless to say, my desire to watch edgelord horror is satisfied for a while if not indefinitely. If nothing else, this made me truly appreciate the importance of horror feeling fictional or somehow fantastical in order for me to enjoy it. I feel secure enough as a horror fan to no longer buy into the belief there are movies one “must watch” to be a true horror fan. So don’t hold your breath for an analysis of Salo or August Underground.

Kandisha

This was a fun surprise. I randomly turned on one of the Shudder TV stations, and this movie had just started playing. It’s a French film about a Moroccan folklore legend who preys on men. It was neat to see something based on real folklore with a female antagonist, and had some really creepy and sad moments.

One Dark Night

This one suckered me in with a really cool preview image on Shudder, and kept me roped in because a young Meg Tilly is the star. But when I realized the dead killer didn’t get resurrected till the last 10 minutes, and I had essentially watched 80 minutes of a group of mean girls playing a prank on Meg Tilly…

The Retreat

I really, really wanted to like this more given it focuses on a lesbian couple fighting off a home invasion at an isolated cabin. Unfortunately it felt so heavy-handed I just couldn’t get into it. I wish it would have emphasized some very specific, relatable moments more like the gas station scene when the couple is put in the position of outing themselves to a group of strange and off-putting men or lying about their relationship. One of the more chilling moments happens when you get a glimpse of a livestream the killers are putting on of the murders, and one of the comments says “maybe they will rethink their lifestyle choice now.” I wish the movie had more of those subtle moments vs. escalating so quickly to crazed homophobic killers.

In Conclusion

This was a fun year in terms of what I watched, and it really made me want to watch more movies throughout the year. It was fun to revisit some 80s cheese and catch up on more recent releases. It is always fun to have a few that I really enjoy, even if I watched less overall movies this year. And it is always a pleasure seeing what other people are watching. Till next year…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s