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October has been prowling around outside my house like a stray cat, sniffing at the doors and windows, and I fear that I won’t be able to stop it from sneaking in tomorrow. It will bring many things with it — longer nights, colder days, the smell of coal fires from neighbours’ chimneys, the scratching of dead leaves dragged along the pavement by the wind, and the October Horror Movie Challenge.

I was introduced to this event by various people on Google+ last year. There seem to be a few variants of it, but the most common one is to watch a horror film a day throughout October, with at least half of these being films that you’ve never seen before.

Last year I fell short, due to work deadlines and some personal matters. This year I am determined to make it work. I have many possible films picked out — enough that I can watch at least one previously unseen film every day.

I shall post about the films I’ve watched here and on G+. There should be a lot of variety, but most of them will be older films, especially Italian horrors from the 1960s and ’70s.

If you want to join in, please feel free to comment here or join in on G+. We can share some nightmares together.

The films so far:

  1. Le Orme/Footprints on the Moon
  2. The Beast Within
  3. Dementia 13
  4. What Have You Done to Solange?
  5. Beyond the Darkness
  6. Hollow
  7. Viy
  8. The Torture Chamber of Dr Sadism
  9. Blue Sunshine
  10. The Dead Inside
  11. Targets
  12. Antiviral
  13. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
  14. The House by the Cemetery
  15. Pin
  16. Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural
  17. The Body Snatcher
  18. The Conspiracy
  19. Sleep Tight
  20. Trilogy of Terror
  21. Pickman’s Muse
  22. All the Colors of the Dark
  23. Saturday Morning Mystery
  24. Matango
  25. Two Eyes Staring
  26. Short Night of Glass Dolls
  27. Images
  28. Horrors of Malformed Men

  29. Don’t Deliver Us from Evil
  30. Mad Love
  31. Jigoku

There’s a wonderful video blog entry from Mark Kermode over at the BBC site that articulates something that has irritated me about a number of recent horror films. Watch this first and then we can carry on talking.

Pointless jump scares are one of the quickest ways to put me off a horror film. You know the kind of thing — the heroine is poking around in the creepy old house, and suddenly we get a loud spike of music and a close-up of a hand grabbing her shoulder. This is then revealed to be her boyfriend, who decided it would be a good idea to get her attention this way instead of, say, speaking to her. There is an immediate burst of fright which immediately dissipates into anti-climax.

What Nigel Floyd has identified in this clip is related, but subtly different. It’s the use of jump scares which do actually have some pay-off, in that they’re not just false alarms, but have not actually been “earned” through building up tension or atmosphere. If they’re overused and not given context then the film ends up like cinematic junk food: it sort of hits the spot at the time, but it leaves you feeling unsatisfied in the end.

Jump cuts and the like aren’t new developments in horror films. I remember jumping out of my seat when Jones the cat leaped out of a cupboard in Alien, back in 1979. That scene had a long build-up, though, and the scare with the cat was just the opening to a more sinister revelation. It didn’t just feel like one explosion in a string of firecrackers.

Like Kermode and Floyd, I am not a young man. I sometimes find myself getting irritated while watching a horror film that was obviously made for teenagers, and have to remind myself that I am no longer the target audience. With the boom of horror cinema recently, there are films coming out to appeal to diverse tastes, and this is a good thing.

Still, one of the pleasures of middle-age is being able to complain about the youth of today and how nothing is as good as it was, so thanks to Nigel Floyd for giving me something to be grumpy about.


Click here to get the Quick-Start rules.

The Kickstarter backers have had the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules for a while, but they are now freely available to all. This short document provides you with everything you need to get going, including the classic scenario, The Haunting. A really nice new addition is five illustrations of scenes for that story by Rachel Kahn:

Hey babe, wanna check out the old Corbitt House?

Hey babe, wanna check out the old Corbitt House?

I liked the process of distilling the game down to its essentials and I hope that the QS rules do just that. Please let us know what you think.

The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man

[Have no fear friends, no one will mention the ‘other’ version. Which other version you ask? Sorry, silly me.]

So many versions, but is the longest cut always the best one? In the case of The Wicker Man, perhaps it is. But there are a number of films that I felt lost something with a longer running time. Longer versions and corrected versions are of course of great interest to dedicated fans and are always perceived as ‘better’. No doubt Joshi’s corrected Lovecraft texts are preferable to the versions that saw print otherwise. But I’m not sure that this practise can be universally applied to all films and books.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is now almost impossible to obtain without the extra scenes, bringing it up to almost 3 hours. Some of those scenes are a bit dull and change the pacing of the film. Bladerunner is another example: lengthened, inconsistencies ironed out, etc. And let’s not even start of Star Wars. On the other hand we have Lord of the Rings. The extended editions put back lots of great scenes which I actually felt were missing when I saw the cinematic release. But I’ve largely given up watching deleted scenes in DVD extras. Almost without fail it’s clear why the scene was cut from the movie.

The same happens with books of course. Stephen King’s The Stand, I’m looking at you. How long before we see the ‘author’s cut’ of the Harry Potter books I wonder? The later books were fat, but the earlier ones were (probably rightly) edited down I believe. If Lovecraft was around today, would he also be writing the obligatory 1000-page novels? Would that be an improvement?

Would those films or books have gained the popularity they did if they had been originally released in their longer cut? Hard to say. But I think that in some cases perhaps not. Part of the popularity of a book or film can derive from its pacing, and sometimes slight ambiguities can add interest and intrigue which is lost when the story is clarified. The of course there’s nostalgia and a love for what you saw first. I’m watching the original series of Star Trek with my son. The version we have is digitally restored with some of the special effects redone. At times I’m aware that what I’m watching is a modernised version, but it hardly bothers me, and the clarity of image is wonderful.

So it comes down to a matter of taste. But I for one don’t automatically go for the 2-disk version, or the director’s cut.

Sometimes more is less.