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November 1, 2019

Filed under: movies»commentary»horror

Wake me up when Shocktober ends

When I was a kid in Lexington, Kentucky, I remember that grocery stores would have a little video rental section at the front of the store, just a few shelves stocked with VHS tapes. I used to be fascinated by the horror movies: when my parents were checking out, I would often walk over and look at the box art, which had its own special, lurid appeal. It was the age of golden plasticky, rubbery practical effects. I could have stared at the cover for Ghoulies for hours, wondering what the movie inside was like.

This year, for the first time, I decided to celebrate Shocktober: watching a horror movie for every day in the month before Halloween. In particular, I tried to watch a lot of the movies my 7-year-old self would have wanted to see. It turns out that these were not generally very good! My full list is below, with the standouts in bold.

  1. Children of the Corn
  2. Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
  3. Green Room
  4. We Have Always Lived In The Castle
  5. Ma
  6. The Conjuring
  7. Pumpkinhead
  8. Halloween 2
  9. Hellraiser
  10. Black Christmas
  11. Insidious
  12. Doom: Annihilation
  13. Candyman
  14. Little Evil
  15. Cam
  16. Chopping Mall
  17. House (1986)
  18. Creep (2014)
  19. The Perfection
  20. They Wait
  21. My Bloody Valentine (1981)
  22. Ginger Snaps
  23. The Gate
  24. Prophecy
  25. Halloween 3
  26. In the Tall Grass
  27. Head Count
  28. 1922
  29. Emelie
  30. Train to Busan
  31. The Babysitter
  32. The Ring

One thing that becomes obvious very quickly is how inconsistent the horror genre is: not only is it extremely prone to fashion, but also to drought. The mid-to-late 80s had a lot of real stinkers — either "comedy" horror like House, nonsense slashers like My Bloody Valentine, or just mistakes (Children of the Corn, which is amateurish on almost every level). I suspect this parallels a lot of the CG goofball period of the late 2000s (Darkness Falls Hollow Man, They).

On the other hand, there are some real classics in there. Black Christmas predates Halloween by four years, and not only probably inspired it but is also a much better movie: more interesting characters, better sense of place, and a wild Pelham 123-style investigation. Candyman and Hellraiser are both fascinating, complicated movies packed with indelible imagery. And Halloween 3 manages to feel like a companion piece to They Live, trading all connection to the mainline series for a bizarre riff on media paranoia.

Somewhere in the middle is Chopping Mall, a movie that's somehow so terrible, so perfectly 1986, that it becomes compulsively watchable. Its effects are bad, the characters are thinly drawn and largely there for gratuitous nudity, and its marketing materials wildly overpromise what it will deliver. It's perfect, I love it, and I name it the official movie of Shocktober 2019.

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