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By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

Fingers (USA, 2019)

From previous attempts at the October Horror Movie Challenge, I know I flag in the last week. It pays to schedule some high energy, funny, or just plain weird films around this time. From the snippets I’d seen about Fingers, it looked more like a black comedy than a horror film. Still, its presence on Shudder’s catalogue gave me all the excuse I needed to include it. Let’s see if it offers enough weirdness to shake me awake.

fingers 1

Synopsis

Amanda, a manager at a small tech company, is a seething mass of neuroses. In particular, she has extreme reactions when confronted by physical imperfections in others. This reaches a crisis point when one of her employees, Walter, turns up to work missing a finger.

At a friend’s recommendation, Amanda seeks help from Dr Scotty, a therapist who speaks in meaningless banalities and seems more interested in exploiting Amanda’s condition than helping her. Somehow, Amanda still manages to find meaning in Dr Scotty’s guidance, sending her down a path of obsession.

Meanwhile, Walter keeps losing more fingers. Two strange men in masks visit him regularly, snipping off a finger each time. Why is this happening? Who are these strange men? And how many people will have to suffer before Amanda finds inner peace?

fingers 2

General Thoughts

Once it gets going, Fingers reminded me of the thrillers Charlie Higson published in the ’90s. Between his breakthrough as a television comedy writer/performer and his later career as YA author, Higson wrote four amazing, dark, funny crime novels that defy easy description: King of the Ants, Happy Now, Full Whack and Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen. Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator fame, adapted King of the Ants in 2003, with some success. If you enjoy Fingers, you should seek these books out. They occupy a similar creative space, but do so much better.

Amanda’s obsession with physical imperfections also reminded a little of Michael McDowell’s weird psychological horror novel, Toplin. While the tone of the book could scarcely be more different from Fingers, they both have protagonists driven to acts of violence by what they see as the ugliness of others.

And just a little warning: Fingers is not a film for dog lovers. There is a very cute husky and, inevitably, bad things happen to it.

fingers 3

Verdict

Although it’s not a bad film by any means, I can imagine Fingers disappointing many viewers. It very much a black comedy, albeit a strange, nasty one. There is no conceivable reason I can see for it being tagged as a horror film on IMDB, and yet here we are. Sure, there is plenty of weirdness and bloodshed, but these are played for laughs. And not all of those laughs land.

Despite a strong, strange premise, Fingers struggles to get moving. At first, it veers all over the place, introducing characters by plunging us into the midst of their lives. It does so briskly and entertainingly enough, but it is difficult to find anything to hold onto. While there are some standout scenes, they feel untethered. The last half hour pulls everything together nicely, however, giving us plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and a satisfying resolution.

The main saving grace of Fingers is its characters. Each is entertainingly ludicrous, deeply flawed and often dangerous. Jeremy Gardner (the writer/director of After Midnight and The Battery) steals the show as “Talky”, the finger-snipping, mask-wearing goon who, as his credit suggests, talks too much. He doesn’t get much screen time until around half an hour in, but the film becomes a lot more interesting once he does.

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!

By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

The Wizard of Gore (USA, 1970)

It wouldn’t be the October Horror Movie Challenge without Herschell Gordon Lewis. Despite his reputation (infamy?) in the horror genre, I’d never seen any of his films until I tried Blood Feast for an early challenge. Since then, I’ve only watched Two Thousand Maniacs. While neither was my favourite of the year, each held some strange allure. The premise of The Wizard of Gore is even stranger than either of these, which gives me hope. Let’s see what’s in his bag of tricks.

the wizard of gore 1

Synopsis

Montag the Magnificent, a stage magician who speaks in booming monologues, enjoys murdering young women. It seems to be even more of a passion for him than magic, and he loves magic. Happily, he has learned to combine his interests. Using unexplained powers that include mass hypnosis and necromancy, he summons volunteers from his audience and kills them bloodily on stage. His audience see glimpses of what is really happening, but also a much tamer, bloodless version, and are unable to tell which is real. At the end of each trick, the apparent victim walks off stage, in a trance, and heads home. Some time later, each is found dead, seemingly from the wounds Montag inflicted upon her.

Sherry Carson, one of the audience members, takes an interest in Montag, wanting to interview him for her TV programme. As she and her reporter boyfriend Jack return for multiple performances, they spot the relationship to rash of strange deaths in town. But given the sheer impossibility of the deaths themselves, what chance do our sleuths have of piecing everything together?

the wizard of gore 2

General Thoughts

After seeing a couple of other Herschell Gordon Lewis films, I was expecting something altogether more campy. Despite the low budget and overwrought performances, this is not a campy film at all. It is simply nasty and strange.

In fact, it’s difficult to convey exactly how strange this film is. Everything about it feels like it comes from outside the cinema of planet Earth. From the odd cold open to the choppy editing and inexplicable ending, this feels more like something I dreamed than watched.

The structure of The Wizard of Gore is no less bizarre. While this is sort of a thriller, most of the film is devoted to Montag’s routines. The rest of the story seems cobbled together to justify these set pieces. Also, no one seems to care that Montag’s whole act runs 10 minutes. Maybe he hypnotises the audience into thinking it’s longer.

For all the weird elements in this film, the ending is especially strange. Until the last two minutes, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how things might wrap up. Oh boy, was I wrong! By the time it was over, I was left shaking my head, trying to make any kind of sense of what had just happened. I think I hate it but at the same time I am so in awe of its audacity and sheer weirdness that I have to admire it.

Ultimately, this is the kind of weird horror I’d associate more with the Phantasm films than Herschell Gordon Lewis. Aspects of the climax, if not the very ending, seem to presage Halloween III: Season of the Witch. And I’m sure there’s more than a little of Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” in its makeup. For what is fundamentally a cheapie gore film about a killer magician, The Wizard of Gore is so much weirder than it needs to be. And I appreciate that!

the wizard of gore 3

Verdict

Almost every aspect of The Wizard of Gore is amateurish. Even the more competent actors have scenes in which they clearly struggle to bring any meaning to the dialogue they’ve been given. The lighting in outdoor scenes is so atrocious that we are left to guess at what may be happening. Some of the audio sounds like it was recorded using a tin can and string. Barring a comically unconvincing dummy, all the special effects have to offer is fake blood and all-too-real offal. The editing in a few key scenes jars and confuses, probably by design. And yet….

For all its many faults, The Wizard of Gore is a shockingly effective film. The apparently random editing of the murder scenes makes them nightmarish. Tossing animal viscera into every scene of gore is repellent and disturbing. Even the poor acting, sound and lighting confound our sense of reality. Nothing about this film should work and yet almost all of it does.

And there are some things it gets absolutely right, such as not offering explanations. We are left with no idea of who Montag is, how he does the things he does, and what his ultimate goal is. He is a sinister force and all the more so because we do not understand him.

While I would be lying if I described The Wizard of Gore as a good film, it is so relentlessly odd that I am compelled to recommend it. Just don’t do as I did and watch it while having supper. Well, unless you have a taste for offal.

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!

By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (USA, 2014)

Once again, I’m using the October Horror Movie Challenge to fill in a gap in my viewing. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has been on my radar since it came out seven years ago. Still, I didn’t really know what to expect from it. Director Ana Lily Amirpour’s description of it being “The first Iranian vampire Western” didn’t help much. All I knew for sure was that it was shot in black and white, the dialogue is in Persian, and that it involves a vampire. Oh, and it received great reviews. Let’s see if it lives up to its reputation.

a girl walks home alone at night 1

Synopsis

Arash, a gardener, lives in Bad City, a rundown town somewhere in Iran. The two things he seems to love are the cat he rescues (steals?) in the opening scene and his car. When his addict father gets into debt with Saeed, a local drug dealer/pimp, Saeed threatens the cat and takes the car.

Meanwhile, the girl of the title, whose name we never learn, roams around Bad City by night, garbed in a black chādor. When the girl encounters Saeed, she goes home with him. Despite Saeed’s attempts to impress her with drugs, guns and money, she only wants one thing from him. Sprouting fangs, she tears out his throat and feasts.

Shortly after, Arash arrives at Saeed’s home, hoping to trade some stolen earrings for his car. He finds the pimp dead and takes a briefcase of money and drugs. After a party in which he is talked into taking ecstasy, he wanders the streets, lost, until he encounters the girl and goes home with her. So begins their unlikely romance.

As Arash and the girl grow closer, Arash’s father becomes more erratic. Relationships shift and fracture. The stage is set for tragedy.

General Thoughts

Amirpour says that she created this film to explore various presentations of the vampire in myth. The one that stands out here is the vampire as a plague. From the opening shot of bodies piles in a ditch to the empty streets, Bad City is a town in the grip of something deadly. The girl supposedly takes on a vigilante role, punishing those she considers evil and scaring others straight. At the same time, she preys on a homeless man who we never see doing anything wrong. The girl feels like arbitrary death, stalking the night in her black garb.

For all the themes explored by her character, the girl is surprisingly ordinary for a vampire. She lives alone, spending her time listening to music. Her rare social interactions are awkward and more than a little shy. If she didn’t eat people, she would be unremarkable.

One thing that really didn’t work for me is the name “Bad City”. Sure, I get that Amirpour is going for something mythic, but it still sounds daft. Maybe it works better in the original Persian. Still, it seems to live up to its name. Apart from the empty buildings and oil refineries, there only seem to be a half-dozen residents left, not counting the vampire or the cat.

Despite the Iranian setting, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was actually shot in Taft, California. Amirpour decided that filming in Iran would place too many restrictions on the film’s content. While this is not exactly an explicit film, aspects like Rockabilly, the trans woman who also lives by night in Bad City, could never have been included otherwise.

a girl walks home alone at night 3

Verdict

I really seem to have loaded this month with moody black-and-white films and love stories about vampires. The two strands come together here and mesh well. Like so many of this month’s films, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night relies on haunting visuals to draw us in. Happily, it is almost entirely successful in this. The best scenes could have come from some lost film noir from the 1940s, stark shadows shrouding the living and the dead.

It did take me longer than I expected to really engage with A Girl Walks Alone at Night, however. While there are plenty of striking scenes in the first half — Saeed’s death, the party, the girl skateboarding through the night streets — it all feels a bit scattershot. It isn’t until the disparate storylines pull together that the film really comes alive. Once this happens, however, it neatly scares off any doubts.

Like a number of my selections this month, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night wears the mask of a horror film but never really uses it to scare us. This is more of a character piece and a tragic romance, just one with fangs. Regardless, I am happy to have picked it and finally caught up with it. This is a beautifully piece of filmmaking, and once it bites you, it won’t let go.

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!

By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

The Field Guide to Evil (USA, 2018)

I was in two minds about including The Field Guide to Evil this month. All I knew was that it was an anthology of creepy folk tales, which did at least sound like my kind of thing. Also, I didn’t have any other portmanteau films on my list, so I decided to give it a try. It wasn’t until I saw the credits that I realised that Can Evrenol (Baskin) and Peter Strickland (In Fabric) had contributed segments. Now, I’m wondering how this film managed to fly under my radar. I suspect witchcraft.

the field guide to evil 1

Synopsis

The Field Guide to Evil is made up of eight short segments, each telling a dark folkloric tale from a different country.

The Sinful Women of Hollfall (Austria)

Kathi, a young woman in medieval Austria, is filled with lustful thoughts. When she gives into temptation with another young woman, her family and community turn against her. Kathi is visited at night by the Trud, an evil spirit that torments sinners. But has the Trud underestimated Kathi?

When The Field Guide to Evil opened with a scene of a young Austrian woman getting way too excited while milking a goat, I wondered if I’d accidentally put on Hagazussa again. Happily, this story is much pacier and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Its portrayal of sexual guilt and social pressure is timeless, blending perfectly with its uncanny elements. I wish I’d enjoyed Franz & Fiala’s Ich seh, Ich seh (AKA Goodnight Mummy) as much as this.

Haunted by Al Karisi, the Childbirth Djinn (Turkey)

Songul is a young, apparently single, mother-to-be, tending to a sickly relative. After her baby is born, she finds herself tormented by an evil spirit that manifests through the goat she keeps for milk. Of course, it drives her to madness.

This is a nasty little story from Can Evrenol about postpartum psychosis as a demonic manifestation. The storytelling is almost entirely visual, leading us deep into Songul’s delusional world. Or maybe there really is a djinn. Either way, this is a bloody, brutal segment that will leave you feeling worse about, well, everything.

The Kindler And The Virgin (Poland)

The kindler of the title encounters a strange woman in the woods. She promises him great knowledge if he consumes three human hearts. Cue graverobbing, cannibalism, and other such nocturnal pursuits.

Out of all the tales in The Field Guide to Evil, this is the one that could have benefitted from more time. The conclusion, when it comes, is so abrupt that I had to go back and watch it again to see what I’d missed. I’m sure there are depths to the resolution that are escaping me. A shame, as I was gripped until that point.

Beware the Melonheads (USA)

A young family go on holiday to a woodland cabin in the Appalachians. As the parents bicker, their young son makes a secretive new friend. Is this friend imaginary or is he really a mutant cannibal child with a melon-like head? Hint: it’s the latter.

This segment is the closest thing to a simple horror story The Field Guide to Evil offers. Sadly, in the midst of far more imaginative pieces, it suffers in comparison. It’s fine for what it is but lacks either the visual flair or creativity of its companions. The final scene manages to introduce some weirdness, but too late to really save the whole piece.

Pangas The Pagan (Greece)

A goblin rises from the underworld to visit a small Greek community in the 1980s. He arrives during a festival and forced to participate in terrible ways.

“Pangas the Pagan” stands out just for its sense of fun. While, like all the other stories, it has a sting in the tail, it feels looser and more playful than the other segments. What it lacks in narrative meat, it largely makes up for in style. While most of the effects are cheap make-up and coloured lighting, it largely works, creating an otherworldly feel.

The Palace Of Horrors (India)

An English agent for a circus travels to India in search of recruits for the freak show. Hearing about a king who keeps unusual people locked up in the cellars of his palace, he sets out to find the truth behind the legend. This ends as well about as you might expect.

This segment tries to be creepy but falls short. The locations are evocative and there are some decent makeup effects, but it is all so obvious as to barely warrant attention. A shame, as the premise could have allowed for something remarkable. Sadly, this isn’t it.

A Nocturnal Breath (Germany)

We return to remote woodlands, this time in Germany. A young man seeks to free his sister from a possessing spirit known as a Drude. This entity takes the form of a field mouse that crawls out of the sister, leaving her catatonic as it carries out mischief. As the spirit turns on their farm animals, the siblings are driven to desperate action.

This classic piece of folk horror is simple, effective, and surprisingly nasty. The hints of the brother’s incestuous desire for his sister only make it creepier. One of the better segments.

The Cobblers’ Lot (Hungary)

Peter Strickland’s dark little fairy tale is the highlight of the A Field Guide to Evil. It’s easy to see why the producers decided to end the film with it. It is a tale of two brothers, both cobblers (actually, more like cordwainers, but this is a nitpick), who both fall in love with the same princess. Their desperate attempts to win her heart lead to betrayal, death, and horrors from beyond the grave.

While it is in colour and has sound effects, “The Cobblers’ Lot” feels like a German expressionist film from the 1920s. The florid title cards and actors’ stylised movements make it timeless — a perfect vehicle for telling a folk story. Every frame is beautiful. Simply perfect.

the field guide to evil 2

General Thoughts

Unusually for a portmanteau film, there is no framing story. We just see a book of folk tales flipping open to pages which tell us the context of the story we are about to see. The film doesn’t suffer at all for this and it gives us more time for the individual stories. With eight segments and a runtime of almost two hours, I’m glad that they didn’t overstuff this thing.

While the stories are international, The Field Guide to Evil has a very European focus. I would very much like to see a sequel with some more Asian content, as well as stories from Africa and Latin America. The world is filled with wonderful and terrifying folktales.

A Field Guide to Evil was brought to life by a highly successful crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo, run by the producers of The ABCs of Death films. Considering that it is crowdfunded and had a comparatively low budget, this is a damn good-looking film.

the field guide to evil 3

Verdict

Any anthology film is going to be a mixed bag, especially when there are multiple writers and directors. Not every story is going to land. Still, A Field Guide to Evil succeeds more than it fails. For me, at least, the most successful segments were those that aspired to be folk tales rather than horror stories. “Beware the Melonheads” and “The Palace of Horrors” both suffer in this respect but are still entertaining enough. “Al Karisi” straddles the gap and largely pulls it off. Of all the entries, however, only “The Cobblers’ Lot” stands out as truly exceptional. But, for a film like this, that is enough to make it worth watching. And the nice thing about an anthology is that the segments which don’t quite work are over quickly enough.

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!

By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

Only Lovers Left Alive (USA, 2013)

Once again, I’m using the October Horror Movie Challenge as an excuse to catch up with a film I’ve been wanting to watch for a while. When I first heard that Jim Jarmusch was making a horror film, I was intrigued. Dead Man had touched upon horror but was something altogether weirder. Only Lovers Left Alive sounded like it was more rooted in the genre. Well, having seen it now, I’m not convinced I’d call it a horror film after all. While it is unashamedly about vampires, it’s sad, funny and moving but never actually frightening. It is absolutely wonderful, however.

only lovers left alive 1

Synopsis

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are vampires and lovers, centuries of years in age, adapting as times change. As the film opens, Adam is a recluse, living in a largely abandoned suburb of Detroit. He is a musician, now officially retired, but still with a cult following. A human contact in the music industry, Ian (Anton Yelchin) acts as his liaison with the world. For all his love of music, Adam is gripped by a deep ennui. He has decided he has lived long enough and has started planning his suicide.

Meanwhile, Eve lives in Tangiers, along with the frail Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who she made a vampire in the 16th century, faking his death. As Adam’s existence revolves around music so does Eve’s around literature. After a phone call with Adam in which she intuits how depressed he has become, she travels to Detroit to breathe new life into him.

Of course, nothing is ever that simple. When Eve’s younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), comes back into their lives, she brings chaos and danger, risking everything about the fragile lives our lovers have constructed for themselves.

only lovers left alive 2

General Thoughts

Only Lovers Left Alive presents a reversal of common vampire tropes. Adam is a vampire living in seclusion, isolated by fear and loathing for the mortals he sees as zombies. We are presented with all the vulnerabilities of vampirism, with only rare glimpses of the power it offers. Sure, Adam and Eve are immortal, with inhumanly fast reflexes and a wealth of experience and knowledge humans can only dream of. At the same time, they are forced into the metaphorical and literal shadows to survive, seeking sources of healthy blood in a world where drinking from the wrong person means painful death. While these are monsters of legend, they are more sad than terrifying.

This is a film defined by a classic rock and roll aesthetic. The vampires are almost carelessly cool, emotionally disconnected from humanity but passionate about art and the world of the mind. Their bohemian fashion sense is camouflage, the sunglasses they wear at night hiding the catlike reflection of their eyes. When they do venture outside, it is to small night clubs and cafés, where their appearance blends in with the kinds of humans who live by night. And blood is not just food to them — it is heroin. Drinking it brings bliss and an immediate release from worldly cares. Their lives are shaped by the difficulties of securing a safe, pure supply. These are the rock stars of the seventies, only with fangs.

only lovers left alive 3

Verdict

Damn, is Only Lovers Left Alive a good film. While it’s slow, talky and almost completely devoid of action, I was gripped by every second of it. The gentle weirdness of Adam and Eve’s existence is utterly fascinating. The film doesn’t really present any new takes on vampire mythology, but the more mundane aspects of how they survive in the modern world make them unique. These are predators who have adapted to survive, learning to live without the hunt. It is only when they encounter a more traditional vampire that their existence becomes imperilled.

Jarmusch presents one of the best depictions of ennui I can remember seeing. You can feel the weight of centuries pressing down on every scene. But for all Adam’s initial self-pity, both he and Eve are still fired by their passion for art, music and each other. Their lives are both rich and empty, alienated from the world around them. I could spend an eternity in their company.

With only a week of the challenge to go, Only Lovers Left Alive is now the film to beat. Simply amazing.

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!