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Spooktober 2023 (The Round-Up #20)

Well, let me tell you, that was quite the month. You might begin to understand what I'm getting at if you trawl through the frankly exhaustive list below. All carefully considered or completely unheard of (sometimes laughed or grimaced at) and delivered for your reading pleasure when you've got twenty minutes or so to spare. Some of these are better recognised than others and for the most part, I tried to avoid the more well-known of the genre, but as you'll see, sometimes it was simply an impossible task. As it states above, this replaces the normal monthly Round-Up, so don't go looking for it, it's nought but a fool's errand, I tell you. It will be quite the relief to get back to normal to be honest. I have still got about a dozen to watch, but the target was fifty and that figure was reached this afternoon, with a day to spare :)

According to those lovely people at Last FM, this is my most listened to track of October, cough, can't imagine why. Anyhow, sing it Madison, you lovely, lovely thing (rubs hands lasciviously)

See you at the end of November Buffs!

#1 A Wounded Fawn (2022)

Travis Stevens is getting to be a bit of an old hand at this type of thing, jumping apparently seamlessly from Producing (Jodorowsky's Dune, A Horrible Way To Die) to Directing Jakob's Wife and Girl On the Third Floor to name but two of his more recent efforts. A Wounded Fawn is a budget-conscious horror thriller with mythical/folklore overtones which takes slightly too long to get going, and when it does, feels a little helter-skelter in its delivery. The script isn't great, if we're honest, but the performances aren't shabby enough to point and laugh at. Plotting seems secondary here, and you will have questions.

#2 The Haunting of the Mary Celeste (2020)

I came for Richard Roundtree and the horror that was suggested. Well, you can't have everything, but we're halfway there, at least. Alluding to the 'biggest maritime mystery never solved', this zips along at a merry pace and doesn't stay long, I've watched alleged 'shorts' that have taken longer to get to the point. Performed decently enough, but you'll be questioning what it says on the tin overall. I mean, it says Mary Celeste in the title, if only it actually made an appearance at some point. Shot well and without any real imagery to keep you up at night, this is more spooks than scares.

#3 The Boogeyman (2023)

There was a warning about Tobacco Depiction before the opening credits even rolled. Not what I have come to expect from Rob Savage, the man that brought us Host and Dashcam in recent, stellar years of output. Big studio intervention has some sway clearly, if proof be needed. This needless health and safety warning smacks of an influence beyond Savage, certainly, and the film also is not a reliable signature for his various abilities. It's formulaic and unoriginal, but well made. Just not innovative and terrifying, which we already know Savage has in his arsenal, should he be allowed to express it.

#4 Tethered (2022)

A short story stretched, I feel. Nicely shot with an eye on the cinematography, this is a simple tale of a blind boy, Solomon, raised on the outskirts of a remote forest, concentrating mainly how he survives on his own by his mother incase something happens to her, which of course it inevitably does. Tied to the rope he had been advised to never lose by his now absent parent, Solomon's life continues without incident for years, until he hears a monster in the woods. A little perambulatory, even at under an hour and a half, which makes this a bit tiresome really, as it fails to ramp up much tension. Mostly fine, but really, meh.

#5 Saw X (2023) - See Main Page

#6 The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

Despite having a long, long list of titles to be going on with, I couldn't avoid this as Netflix have just dumped it onto the front page and having only seen it once, it warranted renewed attention, really to see if I was right how average it had been on first viewing. Rewatch for Spooktober 23. Honestly, I didn't see anything this time that would make me change the result. For me, one of the least enthralling offshoots from that now notorious handclapping original.

#7 Deliver Us (2023)

Well, if you're going to do it, then don't muck about, eh? Five beheadings and flesh flayed from the bodies all in the first couple of minutes gives you a hint. Then picture the scene of a Nun giving birth to twins through the magic of immaculate conception, spawning what is believed to be both the second coming of Christ and the Anti-Christ. Like I say, go hard or go home. Admittedly the manic lunacy doesn't last long, with possibly too much religious exposition in a second act that can't help itself from going absolutely bonkers again. Looks ludicrously beautiful and horrifying all at once with sometimes breath-taking cinematography. Are you not entertained?

#8 House of Darkness (2022)

Anybody else getting Dracula vibes? Mina and Lucy? Really? This is a curious piece, that would be best served on a stage. When Hap (Long) drives Mina (Bosworth) home after a night out where they have just met, she invites him inside her castle (yes, really) for some small-talk and seduction. As you can imagine, being pitched as horror, things are not quite what they seem at first. Not really worth the trial of sitting through for the ultimately unfulfilling payoff, but Justin Long is the best bit of it, and you can't say that every day.

#9 The Nun II (2023) - See Main Page

#10 Let's Stop at the Morgue (2021)

I'm not entirely sure what this is supposed to be conveying. The diary of a serial killer? Narrated by the man who works in a morgue and spends his free time ruthlessly killing people and then displaying their various dismemberments in the woods for all to see is just plain odd, not to mention short, coming in at under an hour. On an apparent micro-budget, you can't fault the creative effort but the acting is awful and plot bewildering. If I was a more inhibited individual, I might call this sadistic for the sake of it. Narratively, this is less scary than it is concerning.

#11 Nightmare Radio: The Night Stalker (2023)

Feels relentlessly choppy and uneven, maybe not quite as budget-conscious as it should be, the story of Casey and her horror-story-chat radio show, the constant that all of these short anthology vignettes are tethered to, becomes partially the centre of attention. Mostly rubbish shorts, practically welded together via some semblance of plot, with poor acting, shoddy haphazard direction, whose only avenue is this venture. Find it in the bargain-bin on garage forecourts everywhere soon.

#12 The Dive (2023)

Not sure I would even classify this as horror per se, but hey, I don't make the lists so... If you recall 'Fall' from not that long ago (two girls get stuck atop a bloody high mast in the middle of nowhere) then you'll be mostly familiar with the premise. Think down deep as opposed to up high. Kudos to the acting as it must have been a bugger to shoot and direction is also accomplished enough, but you will question its plotting and runtime as it is bereft of much of anything other than the simple premise, and drags as such, even at just ninety minutes.

#13 Totally Killer (2023) - See Main Page

#14 Earwig (2021)

Easily the strangest thing about Spooktober so far is Earwig, relentlessly uncomfortable and unapologetic in its barren, plotless delivery. Mid 20th century Europe, in an unnamed town (guessing it's probably Belgium somewhere, given the funding) a man lives in a sparsely decorated house with a young girl who is not his daughter. He makes dentures for this toothless girl, frozen out of her own saliva that he collects in little jars on the sides of her mouth. Then one day he gets a call, telling him to prepare the girl to leave. Yes it is that weird, and I see a ton of therapy in her future.

#15 Resurrected (2023)

Nice idea, I guess, even if it is complete nonsense. Not quite Pet Sematary but you get the general idea. Kid dies and the Catholic Church use him as the first resurrection test subject, and when successful, the uptake of Catholicism skyrockets. All well and good until people start to die (again, in some cases). Told online through the computer of Father Stan, the original resurrectee's Dad, it's a little cheesy overall, but has an inevitable and predictable message. It's heavily sanitized horror, if you can even call it that.

#16 The Unseen (2023)

Again, one of those that isn't really a horror movie. The horror is implied, certainly, but never realised. Walter White Jnr is the real draw for most who end up stumbling across this, most likely by accident. This is no guarantee of quality, however, helming what is a bland, monotonous enterprise with the occasional jump scare. The score is inappropriate throughout, the acting mostly well-intentioned but really not up to par. Overlong and exasperating. Not what it says on the tin.

#17 The Exorcist: Believer (2023) - See Main Page

#18 All Fun and Games (2023)

Always happy to watch anything with Asa Butterfield really, but this is testing my limits. A macabre and sensibly rated game of hide and seek, brought on by the discovery of a knife in Salem (yes, of the witch trials fame) with an unfortunate carving on its blade. Sending only one person crazy bonkers at a time, seemingly, this is bottom of the barrel scraping in inventiveness, although the performances are pretty good, as is the pacing. Thankfully, it's relatively short. Halloween meets Sex Education, if such a thing could exist.

#19 Mother, May I? (2023)

Bitches be crazy, right? When Emmett's long estranged mother (a former ballet dancer) dies and leaves her house to him in her will, it comes as something of a surprise. Welcome at first, but when he brings fiancée Anya to the property, she strangely begins to take on the character of the recently deceased mother. Imaginatively shot, the performances are okay, but this is far from the horror you might be expecting. Languid, it still engages, out of morbid curiosity for the closure, if nothing else.

#20 Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead (2012)

Apparently, only the first of at least five of these - After a nuclear attack in Tokyo, the female population is attacked by infected males who have become sex-crazed zombies, hungry for human flesh. I'm not sure if it was actually supposed to be a comedy, bizarre Japanese porn or proper horror, but I was more amused than anything else. Perhaps it's a damning indictment on the patriarchy? Suitably cheap, atrociously performed and completely bonkers. Still, the most interesting movie title of the month so far. God help us all. I never knew my ejaculate was so dangerous. Gains half a star for making me slack-jawed in genuine surprise.

#21 The Fall of the House of Usher (2023) - See Main Page

#22 I Hear the Trees Whispering (2022)

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a shoddy fps wannabe without the shooting and familiar fonts. Doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it? Well, neither does this, not according to the script. Nobody purposely goes out to make a bad movie, but like here, some people just can't help themselves. With delusions of found footage abound, we're off to the woods for a mystery first person wander with paranormal overtones. Reminds me a bit of Firewatch. Cheap and nasty, would have made a better game, really, but even then...

#23 Fountaine and the Vengeful Nun Who Wouldn't Die (2021)

I never knew Nunsploitation was a thing, but apparently it was quite popular in the 90s and this is the third time that the habit-wearing members of the flock take centre stage this month. Namely Mary, the 'maniac' Nun. Who wouldn't die, apparently. I mean really, you have to have done something pretty heinous to feel the wrath of a vengeful nun. Grindhouse-esque in its admittedly short-sighted aim which both looks and feels like it. Blood, sex and violence go hand in hand with terrible scripting, acting and direction. As it states at the outset, not one for the kids. Or the rest of us, if we're honest.

#24 Werewolf Bitches from Outer Space (2017)

One of the best things about watching huge, steaming piles of awfulness is that you really start to appreciate decent movies much more. From the people that brought you 'Satan Hold My Hand' and 'Lord of the Cockrings' comes these delightful ladies. This is not even Troma enough to raise an eyebrow. I'm not even going to go into the plot as it's all there in the title. Just unbearably terrible nonsense.

#25 The Last Voyage of The Demeter (2023)

A very well made version of Dracula's first trip to England on a boat. Production design is lovely, suitably grim and mostly authentic, with strong, rounded performances. But by all that is holy, it is stupifyingly and teeth-grindingly dull. I haven't been this bored since Eternals came out. Two hours can be a long, long time.

#26 Malum (2023)

When this was released, I immediately had it pencilled in for October because it's one of those - one you want to watch, but not confident enough to imagine it will be as good as you hope. And if it feels oddly familiar, then you'd be right. It could be purely down to the piles of garbage I've been sitting through lately, but this is a pleasant enough surprise. Some decent performances, nice pacing and enough malevolence and savage bloodletting to make your toes curl.

#27 Willy's Wonderland (2021)

So even starring Nicholas Cage, they still couldn't convince the owners to cough up the rights to Five Nights At Freddie's? Now, I like Cage in almost everything he does and the same is true here, but really, he makes some of the oddest choices for roles to play. At under 90 minutes, it's not big on plot development or characterization, but I don't imagine this is your prime reason for watching, so sit back and watch Cage go suitably bonkers for an hour and a half.

#28 Mad God (2021)

Despite the thirty years it took to complete, looking at it today, unencumbered by perception and disposition, I am put in mind of a cross of Coraline, Little Nightmares and Scorn with a touch of Dante's Inferno. The inside of Phil Tippett's head is clearly a riot and not somewhere you or I would like to get stuck in, but it is curious to see the contents spill out into the stop-motion frightmare he has constructed here. Free of dialogue, you are left to ponder on the meaning from the imagery alone. Make of it what you will. Like a fever dream for the criminally and sadistically insane.

#29 Alien Invasion (2023)

This would have gained an extra full half-star if the tension of the piece wasn't utterly missing. Even an ominous score would have helped, but the lack of any kind of engagement, scripting, pacing, direction and delivery comes straight out of film school. Performances are, well, underwhelming, but the cast are only working with what they have and in the hands of a project more professional, they could reach the lofty height of below average. Wow, there's quite a collection in the bottom of this Spooktober bargain bucket, isn't there.

#30 The Devil On Trial (2023)

If the Warren's can make a buck or two out of it, then why shouldn't the family featured in the movie, Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It? This documentary of the events of the first and currently only murder trial ever to be defended due to demonic possession in the US is pretty standard fare for Netflix. Talking heads aplenty with maybe too much emphasis on the interviews, rather than the trial. Cheap thrills for Netflix, really, and the Glatzels got their pay day, which is probably overdue.

#31 The Dark and The Wicked (2020) - See Main Page

#32 - Father of Flies (2021)

Honestly, I really don't know what this even is. I know what it isn't, however. It isn't a story about flies, and the father was barely in it. If I had to have a wild stab in the dark, it does highlight a traditional familial undertone. Don't trust the evil stepmother, because she's, well, evil. Direction is sometimes inventive, the acting roundly terrible with a 76 minute runtime that was way too long.

#33 Who Invited Them (2022)

I'm as happy to have seen this as I am surprised by how much better it was than expected. A story with imagination and simple delivery, strong performances, a nifty script and accomplished if not outstanding direction. Granted, it's a little predictable and you have seen home invasions before, but maybe never so politely. Cutting away to the babysitters detracts somewhat from the four-handed, single location premise, which I've not seen done so well since Carnage. A flawed treat, but a treat nonetheless.

#34 Incest Death Squad (2009)

Not the worst thing I've seen this month, but very close. Complete and utter rubbish, of course, but done with a toothless grin. Ham acting in the Troma style, with the usual sadism, nudity and exploitation.

#35 Perpetrator (2023)

Silverstone's appearance here provides an air of credibility for a project that would have gone completely under the radar otherwise. This does not make it any good, however, only highlights Silverstone's job options and her agent's level of common sense. Rambling and incoherent mostly, but enjoying a few decent scenes. Flattering to deceive is not uncommon and this is a good example of style over substance.

#36 Aftermath (2021)

Polished rather than lavish, the film benefits greatly from the familiar faces more than its substance which is wanting if we're delicately honest. The decent performances are the least we should expect, tick, but the thrill of it all is outweighed heavily by the lack of real meaty tension and overlong running time. Nicely directed but feels clinically sanitised. More carefully managed thriller than bare-toothed terror, really.

#37 Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity (1987)

I was intrigued by the title, to be honest. What are you laughing at?

Thirty years after the invention of the contraceptive pill and five years before Benny Hill died, we have this heavily budget-conscious sci-fi adventure, with boobs and bouffant blondes. Two scantily clad women escape a slave colony with just their bikinis and enough gumption to be able to pilot a spaceship but not enough common sense to put some clothes on. Soft-core-eighties-teenage-wank-material with sets straight out of the Crystal Maze. Not sure I would class this as horror, unless you implied physical danger and threat from some bloke pretending to be the Milk Tray man. Silly, even at the time, so you can imagine reactions today.

#38 Gallery of Horror (1967)

Even with tongue firmly planted in cheek, this is almost unwatchable. I could try and argue that the sixties were a more innocent time, that special effects were still mostly a pipedream and that horror in all its forms was a less sophisticated, naïve genre. This anthology series of five awful short films vary only from bad to worse and are unintentionally funny quite often. Would it be too much of a coincidence to mention that Carry On Screaming was released in the same year? Entertaining if only for the reason that its so dreadfully kitsch and cheesy throughout.

#39 Five Nights At Freddie's (2023) - See Main Page

#40 Hunting Souls (2022)

Not expecting much does have its benefits. You are rarely surprised. This may cause a reviewer to look unfavourably on a project before even seeing it, of course, but that's where impartiality kicks in. On first glance, this looks promising but shows its true colours early on. The script is not inventive or inspired, which is also true for the acting and dull as dishwater direction. Nobody here really comes out of this in a good light, more a roll-of-your-eyes at the tiresome predictability of it all. Hallmark horror for a Sunday lunchtime, really.

#41 Rubber (2010)

Never let it be said that I don't listen to personal recommendations from others whose opinion, at the time at least, I respect. Fool me once etc... Aah, what could have been had the makers not been so keen to make a point that nobody ultimately cares to hear.

True, some big movies are rubbish, but just because a small rubbish one announces what is patently obvious to everyone with eyeballs to see, doesn't make it better or more worthy. Cheap shots are cheap. Noteworthy only because it's trying so hard to be. Why did they bother? No reason, I guess.

#42 Hypochondriac (2022)

Horror-free really, this drama about a young gay man and his accompanying here-and-now-and-in-your-face trauma brought on by his childhood, and in particular, his mother, may well be the last word on the thorny subject of mental illness. I say may, as I have no idea if this is the case or not. General consensus would appear to agree, it seems, but I'll have to take their word for it. It's well made and admirably delivered, thoughtfully paced and directed with care and suitable relish.

#43 Project Eerie (2023)

Amongst the no-budget Troma dross and pretenders of quality and storytelling, every Halloween needs at least one of these - an initially amiable collection of short found-footage stories that you just know is going to go pear-shaped. Made for nothing, you do get more than you pay for here, but low expectations are still advised. Much better than it has any right to be.

#44 Older Gods (2023)

Now nobody likes a hefty dose of Lovecraftian despair, breathless misery and helpless, doomed suffering more than I do. It makes me feel so much better about reality, as a rule. But it has to keep it up. This is the grand opera of horror, so you'd better be ready to live up to it. And this, well, doesn't. The script is okay, the initial unravelling on par and the performances are as acceptable as the design, but this takes the easy route soon after a promising start.

#45 Sound of Silence

I think this nicked the tension from Older Gods that I watched earlier. Cloying and atmospheric often, but the story is very silly and so is the overacting witnessed. One of those that you will forget you've watched within a week, as whilst the mood is nicely set, the events are nothing if not snooze-worthy.

#46 The Exorcism of God (2021)

If you're paying attention, you can spot the homage to William Friedkin early on in this above average dalliance with the darker side. Clearly having had some money thrown at it, it hasn't been wasted and Hidalgo has crafted something that David Gordon Green would stab himself with a crucifix for, given half a chance. Nice pacing, it looks lovely and the scares are well-timed and not the least bit glamourous. This is very easy to get wrong as we've all seen too often by now, but this is an admirable and surprising cut above most of late.

#47 Birth/Rebirth (2023) - See Main Page

#48 Aged (2023)

So who is looking after the mother when the son is recruiting the caregiver? The accidental gardener? Granted, it's a little pedantic, but this is the kind of movie that misses the obvious plot holes, so be prepared to scratch your head from time to time. Looks good, but not the last word in drama or horror if we're honest. Budget-conscious, lazy pacing and being overlong make this a bit of a chore.

#49 Metamorphosis (2022)

Moody and largely without notable events. The cinematography is probably the high point here, along with the incidental string score. The story is one of reconciliation between a man and his wife on a trip away in the woods, which proves fruitless, but the back and forth between the two is strong and the script, such as it is, is delivered convincingly. Patience is required, but ultimately this is a zero-sum game for cast and audience. The unravelling relationship is more convincing than the metamorphosis we're supposed to buy into.

#50 V/H/S/85 (2023)

Having been something of a flag-bearer for the original, I would be lying if I didn't admit that this franchise had gone downhill, almost incrementally, over the years. As such I wasn't really expecting much, but few are really worthy of #50 on this list. Probably weighing in at the second best anthology that's been offered (the original being head and shoulders above all-comers) this is a little less chaotic than recently and authentic in its eighties style. Comic-book horror had never been so well delivered until VHS came along, and this is a step up from some of the duds we've been forced to endure in recent years.


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