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October is almost upon us again. Like a little black kitten, learning to stalk, it only seems to sneak closer when I’m not paying attention. Or maybe my obliviousness is wilful denial. You see, my dark secret is that I hate the Halloween season.

Halloween is supposed to be Christmas for horror fans. For a month or two every year, the world aligns with our spooky tastes. A bloody torrent of horror films splatters our screens. Shops turn into perky goths, draping themselves with cheerfully macabre decorations. And the season ends in ghoulish celebrations that coax out the morbid little kid who lurks within most of us.

At the same time, the world feels like it’s dying. Night conquers day, plunging the northern hemisphere into long hours of darkness. The air turns chilly, bringing the first threat of real cold. Even the trees give up the ghost, shedding leaves in a brief flurry of colour before presenting us with their twisted skeletons for months on end. This whole season is one long memento mori.

The one thing that makes all this bearable is the October Horror Movie Challenge.

What is the October Horror Movie Challenge?

Simply, the October Horror Movie Challenge asks us to watch a horror film a day throughout the month. People have developed all sorts of variations, as people are wont to do. You might want to try picking films from a variety of countries, subgenres and eras, or seek out those made by women, LGBT filmmakers, or other voices underrepresented in the industry. Some try to pack in as many films as their eyes will take, while others watch what they can, knowing they’ll never make it to 31. Every approach is valid.

The only hard rule I have is to select films I’ve not seen before. I also aim to post a full review of each one on this site, along with a post mortem at the end, in which I pick the best, worst and weirdest films of the month.

Once again, I’m watching most of my films via streaming services. While this is mainly for my own convenience, it may also help anyone playing along at home.

For one reason or another, I’ve had to miss the October Horror Movie Challenge for around half the years the podcast has been running. I did take part in 2013, 2014 , 2020, and 2021, however, and you can find my reviews from these years on this site. Maybe they’ll help you find some choice films for your own challenge.

An Open Challenge

As much fun as watching these films is, talking about them is even better. If you fancy joining in, 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 Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or by blowing that whistle you found on the beach.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
  2. Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
  3. Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
  4. Thirst (Australia, 1979)
  5. A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
  6. Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
  7. I Came By (UK, 2022)
  8. 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
  9. Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
  10. Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
  11. Glorious (USA, 2022)
  12. All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
  13. The Addiction (USA, 1995)
  14. Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
  15. The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
  16. Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
  17. Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
  18. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Italy, 1971)
  19. Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
  20. Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
  21. The Freakmaker/The Mutations (UK, 1974)
  22. My Best Friend’s Exorcism (USA, 2022)
  23. Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
  24. The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
  25. Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
  26. The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
  27. Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
  28. His House (UK, 2020)
  29. Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
  30. Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
  31. Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)

Be warned that this list may change as the month goes on. I am fickle.

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 that appeals, you might want to check out the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

The Blasphemous Tome is the semi-annual fanzine that we create for Patreon backers of The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast. It contains articles about RPGs, horror films and weird fiction, not to mention plenty of sanity-blasting artwork and original content for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.

Everyone backing us via Patreon by the end of June 2022 will receive the Tome.

  • $1 backers will receive a PDF copy
  • $3 backers will receive a PDF copy and a voucher for a print-on-demand issue
  • $5 backers will receive a PDF copy and a printed copy, signed by the Good Friends

A Brand-New Call of Cthulhu scenario

Featured in this issue is a new Call of Cthulhu scenario by our very own Paul Fricker, entitled “Step Into My Parlour”.

New York City is a dangerous place in the 1880s, all the more so for the presence of the so-called Spider Gang. The strange drugs they peddle warp both mind and body. A desperate fight for survival begins as the investigators find themselves caught in the gang’s web…

The cover comes from our good friend and comics legend Evan Dorkin, whose work has graced many previous Tomes. We also have illustrations from some favourite eldritch artists, including Lucy Fricker, Nefeli Mandilaras, Jason Shepherd, Ruben Strid, John Sumrow, and Andrew Trnacek.

Contents

Other articles in this issue include:

  • Untitled
    • Nicolas Jovanovic mulls over what makes for a good scenario name
  • Step Into My Parlour
    • A brand-new, full-length Call of Cthulhu scenario by Paul Fricker
  • The Sandwich Horror
    • Hilary Van De Burg offers a 1920s sandwich to accompany the cocktails found in previous issues
  • The Doom-Love of Lith
    • A tantalising snippet from the Livre d’Ivon, transcribed in the langue d’oïl by Gaspard du Nord
  • Distinguishing the Horde
    • Andrew Edward reminds us that monsters are people too
  • Cthulhu Then! Or “This Grey Unpleasant Land”
    • Ian Scanlon invites us to play Call of Cthulhu in the era that first spawned the game
  • Crimson
    • Anthony Lee-Dudley transports us to the Weird West for a colourful piece of flash fiction
  • Paperbacks From Hell Revisited
    • Scott Dorward offers capsule reviews of the latest lurid ’80s reprints from Valancourt Books

The Blasphemous Tome is a reward for the wonderful people who back us via Patreon.

Covers of Tomes of yore

The Blasphemous Tome is licensed for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game by Chaosium, inc.

The Blasphemous Tome is the semi-annual fanzine that we create for Patreon backers of The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast. It contains articles about RPGs, horror films and weird fiction, not to mention plenty of sanity-blasting artwork and original content for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.

Everyone backing us via Patreon by the end of December 2021 will receive the Tome.

  • $1 backers will receive a PDF copy
  • $3 backers will receive a PDF copy and a voucher for a print-on-demand issue
  • $5 backers will receive a PDF copy and a printed copy, signed by the Good Friends

A Brand-New Call of Cthulhu scenario

Featured in this issue is a new Call of Cthulhu scenario by our very own Scott Dorward, entitled “Night Bus”.

No one takes the night bus home from Central London unless they have to. The ride is rarely pleasant, with belligerent drunks, loud arguments, and entirely too many bodily fluids. Tonight’s journey will be even worse than usual. There are more terrible things ahead of you than mere Penge.

The cover comes from our good friend Nefeli Mandilaras whose work has graced many previous Tomes. We also have illustrations from some favourite eldritch artists, including Johan Criswell, Evan Dorkin, Lucy Fricker, Sam Lofti, and John Sumrow.

Contents

Other articles in this issue include:

  • How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Setting
    • Paul Fricker reveals his shifting relationship with RPG settings
  • The Ludomancers
    • The Good Friends discuss their favourite gaming experiences of 2021
  • Night Bus
    • A brand new, full-length Call of Cthulhu scenario by Scott Dorward
  • A Lovecraftian Love Story
    • Hannah Hobson shares a love powen with an eldritch twist
  • Episodes of Insanity
    • The Good Friends reveal their favourite episodes of 2021
  • Cocktail Corner
    • Matt Sanderson tempts us with another tasty cocktail recipe
  • The Stranger
    • Graeme Patrick details a gun-slinging avatar of Nyarlathotep, as encountered on the Ain’t Slayed Nobody podcast
  • The Sanderson Collection
    • Matt Sanderson unveils another rare tome from his library
  • Containing Lovecraft
    • Greg Osborne warns us of the dangers of Lovecraft’s Mythos becoming common knowledge

The Blasphemous Tome is a reward for the wonderful people who back us via Patreon.

Covers of Tomes of yore

The Blasphemous Tome is licensed for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game by Chaosium, inc.

By Scott Dorward

Another Month of Horrors

The shadows have grown longer and the nights colder. Ghosts and goblins are gambolling through the gloaming. The dead whisper terrible things by night, hidden in the rustling of fallen leaves, daring us to listen. All of this can mean only one thing. Halloween is here!

Halloween is a time to reflect upon mortality, to contemplate the fragility of human life and of what lies beyond it. More importantly, it is time to think about all the films I’ve watched throughout the month. Better to dwell on horrors on the screen than those in the shadows.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

The reviews I’ve posted each 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 had to be ones I hadn’t seen before.

I took part in 2013, 2014 and 2020. You can find my reviews from these years on this site.

As much fun as watching all these films can be, talking about them is even better. If you fancy joining in 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 Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or by speaking my name into a mirror at night.

The Good

If I made a mistake in my selections this month, it was picking too many good films. That may sound like a strange complaint, but it does present problems. The less obvious one is that a lot of awful horror films are still entertaining, arguably reflecting the genre better than more polished, artistic efforts. I’m sure we all have our favourite bad horror movies that make us laugh for all the wrong reasons, or just win us over with their charming, amateurish earnestness.

The main problem, however, lies in picking highlights from a month filled with them. I’ll have to skip over a number of films that really deserve more attention. The omission of titles like Raw, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Island of Lost Souls from this selection is no slight upon them — they are simply up against some incredible competition.

If I had to pick my three favourite films from this month, they would be The Lighthouse, After Midnight, and Only Lovers Left Alive. Each reinvents the tropes of horror in unexpected and delightful ways, playing with a wider range of emotions than most genre films. But that is also a problem when it comes to the challenge — each is only tangentially a horror film, and only The Lighthouse is likely to evoke any sense of dread.

So, if I were to pick my three favourite unabashed horror films of the month, they would be Frightmare, mon mon mon MONSTERS, and Jakob’s Wife. Each surprised me in different ways, reflecting varied aspects of what I love about the genre.

Frightmare 2

Frightmare

While I would never claim Frightmare is high art, it represents a kind of simple, direct, but still imaginative horror that I associate with the 1970s. It is sometimes ludicrous, but never dull. While Frightmare may be slower paced than today’s horrors and tamer in its gore, it still hits us with a deliciously nasty resolution. Plus, it brought the word “caribanthropy” into my life, for which I shall be forever grateful.

mon mon mon MONSTERS 3

mon mon mon MONSTERS

mon mon mon MONSTERS was the month’s biggest surprise. Hiding behind a silly title and a kinetic style that suggests comedy lies one of the darkest, most nihilistic horror films I’ve seen in recent years. A couple of weeks on and I’m still reeling from the audacious brutality of its ending.

Jakobs Wife 1

Jakob’s Wife

While Jakob’s Wife is a straightforward vampire film, drawing heavily upon classics of the genre, its characters transform it into something special. Using vampirism to explore societal expectations and gender roles is hardly new either, but doing so through the lens of a woman in her sixties seeking to redefine her marriage is. Barbara Crampton’s performance is a career best, bringing an already sparkling story to life.

The Bad

I’m not sure I’ve seen a genuinely bad film this month. Again, this seems to be a shortcoming of my selection process. I really need to pick some stinkers just so I can tear into them.

There were still a few films I found disappointing, however.

Hagazussa 2

Hagazussa

While Hagazussa was probably the most beautiful film I watched this month, its glacial pace and lack of dialogue robbed it of any sense of menace. There were plenty of individual moments I enjoyed, but they were lost in otherwise overly ponderous storytelling. As I suggest in the full review, watching Hagazussa on the big screen would probably be far more satisfying. For home viewing, however, I need something more than pretty countryside to engage me.

The Eyes of My Mother 3

The Eyes of My Mother

Again, The Eyes of My Mother is a visually appealing film with plenty of potential. But like Hagazussa, it relies on long, slow scenes filled with menace to build tension, but draws them out for too long. It’s a fine character study of a young woman driven to atrocity by loneliness, but it feels bloated even at 75 minutes.

Sator 3

Sator

Sator failed to engage me for similar reasons as the last two films, but had the added barrier of being cryptic. The sparse dialogue and oblique storytelling mask what is otherwise a slight plot. Too much of the film involves Blair Witch-style running around in the woods, screaming at things no one can see. The tragedy is that there is a terrific backstory to the film, based in the director’s family history, that casts Sator in a far more compelling light. It’s a shame we see so little of this on the screen.

And the Weird

As much as I like dark, bloody or even funny horror films, the weird ones usually win my heart. It’s easy to set out to make a cult film but this is rarely successful. The best weird horror films are the ones that don’t know that they’re weird. Some strange alchemy of low budget, incompetence and imagination transforms them into cinematic gold.

The-Boogey-Man-3

The Boogey Man

I almost put The Boogey Man in the Bad section, but I decided that I enjoyed it more than some of the worthier films this month. Don’t get me wrong — it’s terrible, but it’s entertainingly terrible. As I’ve said so many times, the worst thing a horror film can be is boring, which The Boogey Man assuredly is not.

This low-budget ’80s shocker is a mishmash of ideas and scenes lifted from better films, thrown together and attached to a meagre story about a haunted mirror. Half the fun comes from identifying the films it steals from. I should create a bingo card so people can play along at home.

The Baby 1

The Baby

As odd as this tale of a developmentally challenged man forced to live as a baby is, it is more knowingly weird than the other two selections. And in this it falls short. The premise calls for something far wilder and more transgressive than we get. That said, it has moments of genuine discomfort, and the ending is likely to provoke all sorts of conflicting emotions.

the wizard of gore 2

The Wizard of Gore

Damn, is The Wizard of Gore a weird film. I was expecting some oddness, as it was made by Herschell Gordon Lewis, but I wasn’t ready for its all-out assault on our perception of reality. This is a cheapie exploitation gore film, filled with fake blood and real animal guts. But at the same time it delves into truly nightmarish territory before going absolutely batshit insane in the final minutes. This one is going to haunt me.

2021’s Selections

If you’d like a recap of the full list, it went something like this:

  1. Possessor (2020)
  2. The Boogey Man (1980)
  3. Jakob’s Wife (2021)
  4. The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
  5. Cold Hell (2017)
  6. Seance (2021)
  7. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
  8. Dachra (2018)
  9. Isle of the Dead (1945)
  10. After Midnight (2019)
  11. The Baby (1973)
  12. Hagazussa (2017)
  13. Frightmare (1974)
  14. The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
  15. Dave Made a Maze (2017)
  16. Raw (2016)
  17. The Old Ways (2020)
  18. Terror Train (1980)
  19. mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
  20. Sator (2019)
  21. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
  22. The Lighthouse (2019)
  23. Anything For Jackson (2020)
  24. Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
  25. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
  26. The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
  27. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
  28. The Wizard of Gore (1970)
  29. Fingers (2019)
  30. Lake Bodom (2016)
  31. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

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.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

Island of Lost Souls (USA, 1932)

Of all the films in any of my October Horror Movie Challenges, this is the one I’ve waited longest to see. I first read about Island of Lost Souls in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies when I was eight and I have wanted to watch it ever since then. Like Todd Browning’s Freaks, this was banned by the British censors for decades, lending a dangerous allure that persists, despite its age (although, now I think of it, I first read about the film in 1973, which was much closer to 1932 than the present day). So, almost 90 years on, does Island of Lost Souls live up to its sinister reputation?

island of lost souls 1

Synopsis

After his boat goes down in the South Seas, Edward Parker is rescued by a freighter carrying live cargo to an unnamed island. The captain takes against Parker after an altercation over the captain’s bullying of the strange, misshapen man who tends to the animals. When the boat arrives at the island, the captain throws Parker overboard, telling the islanders that he is their problem now.

Once ashore, Parker finds the island is ruled by an English surgeon named Doctor Moreau. The island serves as the doctor’s laboratory, allowing him privacy to conduct experiments that would not be permitted elsewhere. Using a combination of surgery and biochemistry, Moreau converts animals into something like human beings. Not only are his creations humanoid but they have the powers of reason and speech. Moreau has also created a strictly governed society that keeps his subjects’ animal instincts under control through a combination of fear and ritual.

As shocked as Parker is by these discoveries, he is even more horrified when he learns how Moreau is attempting to involve him in these experiments. Inevitably, Parker’s anger provides the spark that ignites the powder keg of repressed animal instincts. Who do things never work out for mad scientists?

island of lost souls 2

General Thoughts

Island of Lost Souls is, of course, an adaptation of HG Wells’ classic novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau. The opening of the film cleaves closely to the book, but then deviates markedly in tone and content. Island of Lost Souls introduces a romantic element, as Moreau encourages Lota, the Panther Woman — his most human creation — to seduce Parker. Moreau hopes that Parker will not be able to sense Lota’s animal origins and that they will be biologically compatible enough to breed. (As an aside, Kathleen Burke, who plays Lota, is just credited as “The Panther Woman” on the film poster. I wonder how she felt about that.)

It is elements such as these that led to Island of Lost Souls becoming so notorious. The film was released shortly before the introduction of the Hays Code, which placed tight restrictions on the content allowed in Hollywood studio productions. When Island of Lost Souls was reissued some years later, it had to be heavily cut to meet the Code. The British Board of Film Censors went one stage further and banned the film outright for over 25 years. Their main objections were to the portrayal of vivisection, but the core concepts of Moreau creating humans out of animal life and proclaiming himself a god were also deemed too objectionable for the viewing public.

Even now, Island of Lost Souls is uncomfortable viewing. The makeup effects are excellent and timeless, remaining creepy to modern eyes. A highlight is the unrecognisable Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law. His wolfmanish features are both amiable and feral. But it is Moreau’s cruelty that makes the hardest viewing. Even more than in the original film, we want to see him get his comeuppance.

island of lost souls 3

Verdict

I am delighted to have finally caught up with Island of Lost Souls. It was worth the 50-year wait. While, of course, the film cannot hope to be as frightening now as it was 90 years ago, it still has plenty of dark power. While you may know the story from the book or other adaptations, that is no barrier to enjoying this version. It has a few surprises of its own, but even its familiarity allows it to build dread, in anticipation of what must surely come.

Every aspect of this film works, even the ones that shouldn’t. Normally, I roll my eyes when scriptwriters shoehorn romantic subplots into adaptations. Here, Moreau’s manipulation of Lota is so deeply creepy that any romantic elements become skin-crawling. In a film filled with lumbering, monstrous shapes, it is this comely creature who is the most disturbing.

If I have any complaint about Island of Lost Souls, it is that the film is too short. Unlike some of the other bloated, overly ponderous films I’ve seen this month, this one packs too much into its 70-minute runtime. I could happily have watched more exploration of the island’s society (something the book details more). Still, this is a mild complaint. There is more than enough to sink your teeth into here, even if the good doctor forbids the eating of meat.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Possessor (2020)
  2. The Boogey Man (1980)
  3. Jakob’s Wife (2021)
  4. The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
  5. Cold Hell (2017)
  6. Seance (2021)
  7. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
  8. Dachra (2018)
  9. Isle of the Dead (1945)
  10. After Midnight (2019)
  11. The Baby (1973)
  12. Hagazussa (2017)
  13. Frightmare (1974)
  14. The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
  15. Dave Made a Maze (2017)
  16. Raw (2016)
  17. The Old Ways (2020)
  18. Terror Train (1980)
  19. mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
  20. Sator (2019)
  21. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
  22. The Lighthouse (2019)
  23. Anything For Jackson (2020)
  24. Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
  25. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
  26. The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
  27. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
  28. The Wizard of Gore (1970)
  29. Fingers (2019)
  30. Lake Bodom (2016)
  31. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

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.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!