My Hooptober 8.0 is over. Here are my results:
1. Canada - Afflicted (2014) Amazon Prime
2. Czechoslovakia - The Cremator (1969) Criterion Channel
3. Japan - Audition (1999) Kanopy
4. South Korea - A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) Kanopy
5. Italy - The Beyond (1981) Amazon Prime
6. Mexico - Blacker Than the Night (1975) YouTube
1. 1920s - The Golem (1920) Kanopy
2. 1930s - The Vampire Bat (1933) Alpha Video DVD
3. 1940s - The Mummy’s Curse (1944) Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection Blu-ray
4. 1950s - Revenge of the Creature (1955) Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection Blu-ray
5. 1960s - Die! Die! My Darling (aka Fanatic, 1965) Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Blu-ray
6. 1970s - Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974) Kanopy
7. 1980s - Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) MGM Blu-ray
8. 1990s - In the Mouth of Madness (1994) Amazon Prime
2 Folk Horror:
1. The Wailing (2016) Amazon Prime
2. Kwaidan (1965) Criterion Channel
4 Films From 1981:
1. The Beyond (1981) Amazon Prime
2. The Funhouse (1981) Peacock
3. Eyes of a Stranger (1981) Scream Factory Blu-ray (borrowed from a friend)
4. The Prowler (1981) - YouTube
2 Films From Your Birth Year:
1. The Premature Burial (1962) Tubi
2. Captain Clegg (1962) Daily Motion
2 Haunted House Films:
1. The Legend of Hell House (1973) Shout Factory Blu-ray
2. Girl on the Third Floor (2019) Library DVD
The Worst Part 2 You Haven't Seen and Can Access:
1. The Woman in Black 2 (2014) Amazon Prime
1 Film Set in the Woods:
1. Lake of the Dead (1958)
1 Kaiju or Kong Film:
1. Godzilla Raids Again (1955) Criterion Channel
2 Hammer Films:
1. Die! Die! My Darling (aka Fanatic, 1965) Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Blu-ray
2. Taste of Fear (1961) Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Blu-ray
3 Films with BIPOC as Directors or Leads:
1. Black Box (2020) Amazon Prime
2. Ginja & Hess (1973) Kanopy
3. Range Runners (2019) Amazon Prime
3 Asian Horror Films:
1. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
2. The Wailing (2016) Amazon Prime
3. Audition (1999) Kanopy
1 Tobe Hooper Film (There must ALWAYS be a Hooper film):
1. The Funhouse (1981) Peacock
1. The Scooby-Doo Project (1999)
I undertook Hooptober (a tribute to director Tobe Hooper, pictured above) for several reasons. It sounded like fun, but I also hoped it would provide an opportunity to explore the reasons why I tend not to enjoy most horror movies. I explored some of these thoughts last year, even though I wasn’t participating in Hooptober. In that post, I found that the majority of the horror I enjoy is from the relatively early days of horror cinema and less from the years when more graphic violence became a more prominent part of the genre. After Hooptober, I’m convinced that may not necessarily hold true for me anymore.
Hooptober 8.0 made me realize that horror is really no different from other film categories. There’s good and bad in every genre, big and low budget productions, well-crafted scripts and absolute rubbish. Although not exactly a huge revelation, that realization helped me understand one reason why horror is or isn’t effective to me personally. Something I felt needed more exploration was the idea of the purpose of horror.
Are horror films simply trying to scare us? Some certainly are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We watch protagonists onscreen and identify with them, putting ourselves in their place and wondering what we would do against the killer/monster/entity/etc. At times this can provide a good experience, depending on the protagonist and the situation. At other times, we become angry, not only at the idiocy of the protagonist and the situation, but also that of the film’s creators. I only get limited pleasure (if any) from watching characters make stupid decisions over and over, such as Don Koch (Philip Jack “CM Punk” Brooks) in Girl on the Third Floor (2019).
Yet in Audition (1999), Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi, right) makes one bad decision stretched out over nearly two hours. Aoyama’s choice is indeed bad, but not stupid, reckless, or necessarily foolhardy. It is an action taken out of longing and desperation. We know it’s an unwise venture, but the buildup to the consequences of Aoyama’s decision is a slow descent, arriving at a powerful payoff that lingers in the mind for days, maybe weeks and months after the film is over.
That brings me to the point of running time, which I’ll get to presently. I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’ve made a decision (hopefully better than Aoyama’s) to permit any horror film only one idiotic jump scare, but that’s it. I can thank The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014) for this new rule in my movie-watching life. (This film checked the “worst Part 2 you haven’t seen and can access” box from Hooptober 8.0. This was also the category I was least looking forward to, and for good reason.)
I should probably define what I consider an idiotic or cheap jump scare. I’m not talking about one that is revelatory and essential (such as the famous one in the 1976 film Carrie), but rather those that have no purpose other than to get the audience to… well, jump. These have little or nothing to do with plot, character, or anything else. They’re just lame attempts to visually say “Gotcha!” when you have no other creative ideas. Horror fans may disagree or hate me, but this is kid stuff, low-hanging fruit that’s pretty much rotten anyway. The jump scare has to have a larger purpose. Make it mean something. You can give me one idiotic jump scare per movie, but after that, I’m outta here.
This brings me to one simple observation followed by a more complex one. First, the simple: running time
I have a personal rule (really more of a guideline) that comedy films should normally run no longer than 90 minutes. That’s a generalization, of course, and a personal one, but I find myself adhering to it more and more. I can count on one hand (heck, probably on one nose) the number of comedies over 90 minutes that work for me. I know plenty of people, for instance, who love It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), but no amount of money would entice me to sit through its three hour (more or less, depending on the cut) running time again. Before Hooptober 8.0, I would’ve said the same rule applies to horror. But now I’m not so sure.
Roger Ebert often said, “No good film is too long. No bad movie is short enough.” Ebert said many wise things during his life as a critic, and this quote may be in his Top 3. The worst film I saw during Hooptober was the aforementioned The Woman in Black 2, whose running time of 98 minutes felt like a transatlantic flight. And it doesn’t matter what decade the movie comes from: I felt time standing still during 1944’s The Mummy’s Curse (60 min.) just as much as I did watching 1981’s Eyes of a Stranger (84 min.).
Yet I was totally absorbed in watching A Tale of Two Sisters (South Korea, 115 min.), Audition (Japan, 115 min.), The Wailing (South Korea, 156 min.), and Kwaidan (Japan, 183 min.) Now the slightly more complex observation: These are all films from Asian cultures, which makes them more interesting in that I’m less familiar with those cultural touchstones, methods of storytelling, etc. Spellbound, rather than “absorbed,” might be a better description of what I experienced. These films didn’t feel two to three hours long. This obviously has something to do with the uniqueness of the cultures they represent, but the filmmakers also understand pacing, audience expectation, when and how to convey information, and much more. They understand and respect the audience. As I explore more of the cultures represented by these films, my appreciation of them will no doubt increase.
These films also focus on deeper fears than many of the others I watched during Hooptober. I’m talking about primal, gut-wrenching fears: losing a loved one, the idea of being truly haunted by something that reaches deep inside yourself, our relationship with parents and siblings, and much more. Many of these fears are inescapable, regardless of where we run to in attempting to escape them. The inability to put distance between yourself and your fears eventually becomes chilling, possibly even crippling. There’s something about these movies that help us deal with these fears in a way that so many of the other movies I watched don’t even come close to addressing. And maybe they’re not even trying to do so.
My biggest takeaway from Hooptober is an eagerness to explore more films from Asian countries in general and more Korean horror films in particular. As I told one of my coworkers after watching both A Tale of Two Sisters and The Wailing, “These movies will mess you up.”
Part of my challenge during Hooptober 8.0 was to separate the quality of certain films from my enjoyment of them. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) is not a great film, but at least it’s an original idea, produced on a modest budget that works in its favor. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s goofy, but fun. My hat’s off to the filmmakers for trying something different from the typical horror fare.
Afflicted (2014) creates an interesting mashup, combining a found footage movie with a vampire story. Although not all of the movie worked for me, I appreciated someone trying a new twist on a very old story.
Now for the bottom line:
Of the 31 films I watched during Hooptober 8.0, I can honestly say that I at least moderately enjoyed 18 of them. Yet I was very impressed with only seven of them. If I had to rank those seven, they could come out like this:
The Cremator (1969)
The Wailing (2016)
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
The Golem (1920)
The Funhouse (1981)
I’m glad I participated in Hooptober, but I probably wouldn’t do it again. But I did find out more about my tastes in horror, so I’m grateful for that. The films from other countries certainly broadened my exposure to different types of horror pictures, many of which I hope to explore in the coming months and years. So my thanks to Cinemonster and everyone who has anything to do with Hooptober. I salute you all.