The October Horror Movie Challenge
The reviews I’ve posted every day this month are my way of taking part in the October Horror Movie Challenge. Everyone has their own approach, but the main requirement is that you must watch a horror film every day throughout October. The only hard rule I had was that the films I chose had to be ones I hadn’t seen before.
As much fun as watching all these films has been, talking about them is even better. If you fancy joining the conversation, I would love to hear from you. The main hub of discussion is our Discord server, where we have a channel dedicated to the October Horror Movie Challenge. Alternatively, you can contact me on Bluesky, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or by leaving an offering of blood and milk beneath the old yew tree.
This is a tough category to narrow down. Apart from anything else, I have broad tastes in horror, and I will happily watch films from any subgenre or era. While I don’t get much pleasure out of watching terrible films to mock them anymore, I am always happy to make allowances for those that look dated or have painfully low budgets.
Also, my more ad hoc approach to selecting films this year meant that I ended up seeing far more than usual that I enjoyed. That said, while I liked a great many of them, there were only a handful that stood out as exceptional.
There are a few near misses that deserve special mention. In any other year, Something in the Dirt would have made my top three. Moorhead and Benson are long-time favourites of mine, and seeing them return to their micro-budget roots was one of the few good things to come out of the pandemic.
While I’m not sure I would describe it as enjoyable, Demon is a film that will haunt me for some time. Its mixture of Jewish mythology and the dark history of Poland is potent and unsettling. On the other end of the scale, both You Might be the Killer and Totally Killer were smart, funny slasher comedies made with a real love for the genre.
No One Will Save You probably surprised me more than any film this month, with its increasingly weird alien monsters and bizarrely affecting ending. And 47 Metres Down was certainly the most frightening selection, keeping my muscles knotted with tension throughout.
This was a real surprise. For a start, Brooklyn 45 is far more serious than I expected from the poster and trailer. It’s also more of a thriller than a straight horror film, despite its central séance and subsequent ghostly manifestations. Largely taking place in a single room, it places its characters under increasing pressure, forcing them to confront the trauma and consequences of their wartime actions.
A few of the films I watched this year turned out to have been shaped by the pandemic. The fear of infection runs all the way through In the Earth, although this ultimately proves more of a transformative experience than a fatal one. Ben Wheatley draws upon the spirit of Nigel Kneale, giving us a film that mixes folk horror with science fiction, creating something trippy, imaginative and exquisitely British.
As I started watching it, I was worried that Talk to Me had been overhyped. Barring a shocking opening scene, it initially feels like the kind of teen-friendly commercial horror film that plays things safe. As the story escalates, however, it moves into some very dark places indeed. This is such a fresh take on classic ghost story tropes that I ended up loving it.
While I watched a fair few mediocre films this year, I don’t think there were any I’d describe as terrible. A couple tried my patience, but not enough to make me hate them. Even so, I should probably highlight a few as the weakest selections of the month.
I was in two minds about including The Banishing here. It’s not actually an awful film, merely a disappointing one. Christopher Smith has directed some amazing horror films, like Creep, Triangle, Severance and Black Death. If The Banishing had been made by another director, I might just have shrugged and moved on. Instead, this convoluted, derivative mess of a ghost story feels like such a shocking waste of talent that I ended up resenting it.
While I found little to enjoy in Older Gods, I feel guilty about including it here. This is clearly the kind of low-budget passion project I feel like I should be supporting, and a rare attempt to tackle the more philosophical side of cosmic horror. The problem is that it’s dull. Too much of the film is spent watching the protagonist sitting in a living room, passively consuming information that has been left to him by a friend. Such a promising premise deserves a much better execution.
I think I’m done with Herschell Gordon Lewis. While The Gruesome Twosome was an improvement over the mean-spirited misogyny of last year’s The Gore Gore Girls, it doesn’t have much to recommend it either. This is a 72-minute film with maybe 20 minutes of material, padded out in a blatantly cynical manner. The few fun or weird moments aren’t enough to save it from being tedious.
When it comes to horror, I like weird films. I’ll always take a shoddily made oddball over something polished but empty. This is a genre filled with enthusiastic filmmakers who often do their best with a budget that would barely cover a night down the pub. If a film shows me something I’ve never seen before or drags me along with its clumsy enthusiasm, I will love it forever.
As I mentioned in the full review, Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell may be the cheapest-looking film I’ve ever seen. The special effects are so gloriously amateurish that they pass out the other side of awful and become utterly endearing. Similarly, the acting and the script are so chaotic and feverish that you may wonder if you dreamt the whole thing. I cannot pretend this is a good film, but damn is it a fun one.
This Lynchian, Freudian nightmare of a monster movie is also dreamlike, but in a very different way. Murder Me, Monster is a polished, beautiful piece of cinema with an utterly deranged script. The supporting characters and dialogue are filled with captivating eccentricities, and the sheer beauty of the Andean locations turns the simplest scene into something majestic. If you watch this and wonder why I placed it in the weird section of this post mortem, just wait for the end.
Portraying Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a 250-year-old vampire is already an audacious premise for a film. That’s only the beginning of the sheer oddness of El Conde, however. This is an angry but funny attack of the grubby reality of fascist leaders and their self-mythologisation. But while El Conde is absolutely a political satire, it is also a perfectly accessible vampire story that goes to some very strange places indeed.
If you’d like a recap of the full list, it went something like this:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!