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October Horror Movie Challenge 2022

Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2017)

Be warned that I am going to spoil the bejesus out this film. While I normally avoid major spoilers in these reviews, it’s going to be hard to do so this time. There is an aspect of Crystal Eyes that ruined the film for me and I can’t really address it without laying all the story’s secrets bare. Sorry about that.

I will at least leave the spoilers until the end of the review, so stop reading before you hit the “Verdict” section if you want to avoid them.

If you want a spoiler-free version, however: Crystal Eyes is pretty much Dario Argento meets John Waters in 1980s Buenos Aires. It’s a low-budget neo-giallo that wears its influences openly and has some fun with them. The world of ’80s fashion presents the perfect garish setting for such fare, even if the film doesn’t always have the budget to bring it to full life. If you’re a fan of gialli, camp, or both, you’ll find plenty to enjoy. It’s just a shame about that other aspect, however…

Crystal Eyes is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.

Crystal Eyes 1

Synopsis

Argentinean supermodel Alexis Carpenter is the worst kind of diva. Her cocaine-fuelled petulance enrages everyone she works with, although her fans and her brother still love her. All of this comes to a swift end, however, when her recklessness leads to her catching fire at a fashion show, going up like the world’s most glamorous roman candle.

There is now an Alexis-sized hole in Argentina’s fashion scene and every would-be supermodel wants to fill it. The editor of fashion magazine Attila is planning an Alexis tribute issue, with two of her top models clamouring for the cover spot. Unfortunately for them, a leather-clad figure in a mannequin mask, tottering on impractical high heels, is literally cutting a swathe through the fashion world, brutally slaying anyone who might take Alexis’s place.

Is this Alexis returned from the dead? A copycat? Or maybe an ugly genre trope brought to life? Scroll down to find out.

Crystal Eyes 2

General Thoughts

Crystal Eyes is a very low-budget film. Eye-catching costumes and makeup, and imaginative cinematography offset this, but the sound could come from a ’70s Italian horror movie. Maybe this is a deliberate choice to better emulate its inspirations, but it’s distracting.

Despite the lack of budget, Crystal Eyes nails a particular kind of ’80s aesthetic. Setting the film in the world of fashion excuses a lot of the excess more than most ’80s pastiches.

Crystal Eyes is made up of almost nothing but kill scenes. By the halfway point, I wondered if we were going to have enough victims left to last until the end. There is almost no plot beyond the bare framework required for the set pieces. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make the film feel empty.

While Crystal Eyes is clearly a love letter to gialli, even down to the black leather gloved hands turning photo album pages in the credits, it feels more like a parody than a pastiche. The acting sometimes feels more soap opera than giallo. This is Garth Marenghi does Argento.

One of the strangest moments is when a TV shows a singer performing a song whose lyrics pretty much recap the plot. In a more serious film, this might have been too much, but here there is no attempt to help the audience suspend disbelief.

While most of the sets look cheap and minimalist, the mansion location used for the final act is spectacular. It should have received star billing.

Crystal Eyes 3

Verdict

As Crystal Eyes unfolded, I felt a growing sense of dread. There is nothing particularly tense or frightening about the film, but I was gripped by the expectation that the climax would involve one of my least favourite genre tropes. For a brief time, in the third act, it felt like the film might be trying to subvert this expectation. And then it didn’t.

So, the big reveal is that the killer is actually Alexis’s brother, Matias. Traumatised by her death, he has entered a delusional state where he believes himself to be Alexis. Or maybe he’s actually possessed by her vengeful spirit. It doesn’t matter. Either way, he is inspired to dress up as a fetish mannequin and stab people.

The trope of the cross-dressing or gender-confused killer has been a staple of horror since Robert Bloch’s Psycho, and existed long before. On the surface, it’s probably no worse than a lot of other horror tropes, but it has fed a persistent fear of anyone who steps outside perceived traditional gender roles. At a time when transgender people are being demonised in politics and the press, I worry that such representations unwittingly support dangerous narratives.

At the same time, I could almost argue that Crystal Eyes does something different than Psycho and its imitators. The killer uses a mannequin aesthetic that is closer to a drag queen than any trans woman. And his delusion is born out of an obsessive love for his sister rather than any gender dysphoria. Still, I can’t help but worry that such nuances would be lost on viewers whose prejudices might be supported by this trope.

All of this is especially frustrating, as it ruined what was otherwise a fun and imaginative giallo pastiche, at least for me.

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. 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. My Best Friend’s Exorcism (USA, 2022)
  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. Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
  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. The Addiction (USA, 1995)
  28. His House (UK, 2020)
  29. Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
  30. Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
  31. Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)

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!

October Horror Movie Challenge 2022

Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)

While I hadn’t heard of the video game that Werewolves Within is based upon, it seems to be a variant of Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow, which I’ve played several times. Players must work out which member of their small community is a werewolf and dispatch them before they eat everyone else. The film never entirely embraces this premise, skipping over the accusation aspect. This may make Werewolves Within a poor adaptation, but may help it as a film.

Normally, the video game connection would have put me off. It’s not that every attempt to bring a video game to the screen is terrible, but there have been enough stinkers to warrant suspicion. When I read that the film was directed by Josh Ruben, however, I decided to give it a chance. Ruben’s previous film, Scare Me, was one of my favourites of 2020, so I went into Werewolves Within with high hopes.

Werewolves Within is currently streaming on Netflix in the UK.

Werewolves Within 1

Synopsis

Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) is a forest ranger, newly assigned to the Beaverfield. The town is small and isolated, surrounded by woodland. As well as being filled with the kinds of lovable weirdos who populate small towns in movies like this, it is also home to a bitter dispute between environmentalists and an oil company that wants to run a pipeline through the area. Oh, and a werewolf. We can’t forget the werewolf.

Tensions mount as one resident’s dog gets eaten, an unknown party sabotages all the generators, and the body of the innkeeper’s long-missing husband turns up, looking like a used chew toy. As if all that weren’t enough, a storm hits, knocking down power lines and blocking the one road out of town. The locals gather at the inn for warmth and safety. Any community spirit is quickly sabotaged by the schism over the oil pipeline, however. And then the attacks start, leading to death and dismemberment.

From here, there’s lot of running around and screaming, a bit of investigation, and some entertaining set pieces. But even as the bodies pile up, is there any proof that the killer is anything other than human? We’ll have to hold on for the end of the film to find out.

Werewolves Within 2

General Thoughts

Werewolves Within‘s greatest asset is its cast. As in Scare Me, Ruben favours actors known for comedy rather than horror, which suits his style well. You will probably recognise Milana Vayntrub, Harvey Guillén and Cheyenne Jackson from any number of television appearances. The highlight is finally seeing Sam Richardson in a leading role, as Wheeler. He was a standout in Veep, even as a supporting actor, stealing every scene he was in as the cheerfully incompetent Richard Splett.

While the film uses some cheap narrative tricks like jump scares, red herrings (one of the townsfolk has a snore that sounds like an animal’s growl) and clumsy misdirects (one character points a knife at another’s face before asking whether it smells funny), their crassness is part of the joke. Fortunately, Ruben does not overuse this trick as it would have worn out its welcome quickly.

Werewolves Within 3

Verdict

Werewolves Within is a perfectly entertaining way to spend 97 minutes. It offers a good number of laughs, with a great cast chewing up the scenery as much as each other. As comedy/horror films go, Werewolves Within skews to the comedy side. That’s not to say it’s toothless, however. There is plenty of gore and some real suspense as the situation worsens. But comedy is the focus and even the most violent scenes are more slapstick than savagery.

The film never quite fires on all cylinders, however. Its quirky characters get lost in the unfolding chaos and it can be hard to keep track of what has happened to whom. This causes the second act to drag.

While there are some twists and turns, it’s fairly easy to work out who the werewolf is if you think about what would suit this type of story best. This isn’t a major problem, however, as the film has a lot more to offer than a surprise ending.

Minor complaints aside, Werewolves Within is a lot of fun. It only suffers in comparison to the superior Scare Me. Still, I hope that Ruben’s next feature has a meatier script.

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. 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. My Best Friend’s Exorcism (USA, 2022)
  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. Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
  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. The Addiction (USA, 1995)
  28. His House (UK, 2020)
  29. Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
  30. Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
  31. Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)

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!

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. My Best Friend’s Exorcism (USA, 2022)
  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. Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
  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. The Addiction (USA, 1995)
  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.