What I Watched in October 2020
Some films in this post have little or no commentary. That’s for two reasons. One, I ran out of time, mostly working on my three “Exploring Horror” posts. Two, I just don’t think anyone’s reading these “What I Watched Last Month” posts, so starting in December, I’ll probably just provide a list or stop them altogether.
I determined to watch as many types of horror films as I could, focusing on many different eras. Again, you’ll find more of my thoughts in my horror posts (linked throughout this post). I hope you’ll explore those essays.
So here we go…
The Magnificent Seven (1960) John Sturges (MGM Two-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD)
Yes, this is my first time to watch all of the original film The Magnificent Seven, not the TV show, not the remake. Of course, this film is not the true original, since it acknowledges in the credits that it was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai (1954). The story is similar: a poor village being plundered by bandits (led by Eli Wallach) hires a team of professional gunfighters (including Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, etc.) to help them. Although it’s modeled on Kurosawa’s film, The Magnificent Seven isn’t going overboard to exactly replicate Seven Samurai, which is one of its strengths. Elmer Bernstein’s score is legendary, and rightfully so. The DVD is still available, and as far as I can tell, is the only release that includes the audio commentary from writer and film historian Christopher Frayling. I’m not giving this one up, not unless six guys with guns come riding into my living room, and maybe not even then.
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) Amy Holden Jones (Criterion Channel)
You’ve got the entire plot captured in the title. Valerie (Robin Stille), the new girl at a Los Angeles high school, isn’t invited to Trish Deveraux’s (Michele Michaels) slumber party, but instead keeps an eye on her kid sister (Jennifer Meyers) while the killer with power tools does his thing at the slumber party. Clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), The Slumber Party Massacre isn’t as good as that film, but it’s not bad at all.
The Fog (1980) John Carpenter (Shout Factory Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
What better way to start your film than with John Houseman telling a group of kids a creepy story around a campfire? As a small coastal California town prepares to celebrate its centennial, a thick fog descends upon the populace, bringing death. But why? The Fog is a pretty standard, traditional story elevated by superb atmosphere and a good cast, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, and more. My wife (somewhat reluctantly) joined me for this one and enjoyed it.
El Norte (1983) Gregory Nava (Library DVD)
Nava’s powerful film is much more than the story of the struggle of a young couple (Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando) escaping persecution in Guatemala to cross into the United States. It’s also a film that has lost none of its power and significance in the 37 years since its release.
The Mummy’s Hand (1940) Christy Cabanne (Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection Blu-ray set)
Despite a good cast, consisting of Boris Karloff, Wallace Ford, Eduardo Ciannelli, George Zucco, and Cecil Kellaway, this lackluster sequel to the 1932 original contains far too much levity and lacks the wonder and mystery of the original.
Son of Frankenstein (1939) Rowland V. Lee (Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection Blu-ray set)
This is more like it. Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), son of the original Dr. Frankenstein, returns to his father’s castle with no intention of carrying on his dad’s work… Until he meets Ygor (Bela Lugosi). A terrific cast (including Boris Karloff, Lionel Atwill, and Josephine Hutchinson) and wonderful art direction make this well worth your time.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (doc. 2019) Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman (Library DVD)
We’re seeing so many music-related documentaries these days there’s not that much to distinguish them, yet Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice is a better-than-average effort. Ronstadt’s career came to a close in 2011 due to Parkinson’s Disease, but the film’s producers spend only a brief amount of time on what’s been lost, focusing instead on Ronstadt’s amazingly varied career.
The Invisible Man Returns (1940) Joe May (Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection Blu-ray set)
Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price), wrongly convicted of murdering his brother, finds a doctor (John Sutton) whose serum that will make Radcliffe invisible, allowing him to find the real killer. A fairly enjoyable venture that pales in comparison to the 1933 James Whale original.
Deathdream (aka Dead of Night, 1974) Bob Clark (Criterion Channel)
Richard Backus stars as Andy Brooks, a young soldier who returns home from fighting in Vietnam. The only problem was his parents received a telegram stating that Andy died in combat. Oops. Something’s definitely wrong, but it’s not with the telegram. Deathdream is a powerful look at the way Vietnam ruined so many veterans as well as an effective horror movie. Some may think it heavy-handed, but I would argue that Clark’s restraint is exactly right for this film. More here.
Basket Case (1982) Frank Henenlotter (Arrow Blu-ray) Rewatch, 3x
I love Basket Case and was delighted when my wife told me she wanted to watch it. It’s funny, sad, scary, and just possibly a work of genius.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) John D. Hancock (Criterion Channel) Rewatch, 2x
I discussed this film earlier this year, more for how my mom reacted to it rather than the film’s content, but Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a low-budget, patient movie with many rewards. My friends Cole and Ericca discussed the film last year on an episode of The Magic Lantern podcast. See the film first, then check out their thoughts.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) Charles Lamont (Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection Blu-ray set)
Maybe it’s just that a little Abbott and Costello goes a long way with me. This was fun (especially since we get to see Adele Jergens, Sheldon Leonard, and William Frawley), but this will probably be the only A&C movie I see for awhile.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) Eli Craig (Kanopy)
Speaking of a little going a long way, while Tucker and Dale is clever and fun, I began to lose interest after about 30 minutes. I think the next time I watch it, it should be with a group, maybe with adult beverages involved.
Death Line (aka Raw Meat,1972) Gary Sherman (Criterion Channel)
Black Christmas (1974) Bob Clark (Criterion Channel)
Discussed in Part II of my journey through horror
I Shot Jesse James (1949) Samuel Fuller (Criterion Channel)
Enjoyed this one quite a bit, just didn't have time to write about it.
Frightmare (1974) Pete Walker (Criterion Channel)
Discussed in Part II of my journey through horror
Alice Sweet Alice (1976) Alfred Sole (Criterion Channel)
Also discussed in Part II of my journey through horror
The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) Roger Corman (Shout Factory Vincent Price Collection Blu-ray set, second edition)
Once again, discussed briefly in Part II of my horror romp
Sweetheart (2019) J. D. Dillard (Netflix)
Mother (2009) Bong Joon-ho (Kanopy)
More crime thriller than horror film, this film from Bong Joon-ho deserves more attention and discussion.
November (2017) Rainer Sarnet (Kanopy)
Discussed in Part III of my horror excursion
The Woman in Black (1989) Herbert Wise (Network UK Region B Blu-ray)
This wonderful British period ghost story deserves a wider audience and a full review, which I hope to write before the year is finished. Regardless, you should seek it out.
Christine (1983) John Carpenter (Sony Blu-ray)
Depending on the day of the week/how I'm feeling/what I've had (or haven't had) to drink, if asked what I thought about this film, I could answer with either "Totally ridiculous," "Pure genius," or anything in between. I don't know why I waited 37 years to see it, but I'm glad I did, and I'll definitely watch it again.
Halloween (1978) John Carpenter (Starz/Anchor Bay Blu-ray) Rewatch, 7x
Discussed in Part I of my journey through horror
Midsommar (2019) Ari Aster (Amazon Prime)
Discussed in Part III of my horror hike
The Thing (1982) John Carpenter (Shout Factory Blu-ray) Rewatch, 5x
Discussed in Part I of my journey through horror
Carnival of Souls (1962) Herk Harvey (Criterion Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
The House That Dripped Blood (1971) Peter Duffell (Amazon Prime)
Fairly good horror anthology movie with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but not together. Cushing’s wardrobe may be the most frightening thing here.
Fright Night (1985) Tom Holland (Amazon Prime) Rewatch, 2x
A bit too long with unnecessary repetition, but still effective. I’d forgotten how graphic things get toward the end, but it works well.
The Social Dilemma (docudrama 2020) Jeff Orlowski (Netflix)
Suffers from manipulative dramatic reenactments, but isn’t this a documentary about manipulation? This could be the most frightening film of the month.
Night of the Creeps (1986) Fred Dekker (Sony DVD)
That's it. I'd love to hear what you watched, horror or otherwise. Also, I'll have my first Noirvember post up later today. Everyone take care and be safe.
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