House of Halloween Horror Fest 2022

It’s now November, and while Halloween is a distant memory for some, here it still lingers. Halloween Horror Fest was a blast, but it’s not quite dead and buried yet. There are a couple of spooky movies still to review for you lucky people. Gather round, ghouls – it’s time for…

House of Frankenstein (1944)

You just can’t beat the old Universal monster movies – I love ’em! Ideal easy viewing for Halloween – or any time, really!

In this picture, legendary horror master Boris Karloff plays Dr Niemann, a Mad Scientist if ever there was one, who escapes from prison with his hunchback accomplice. Together, they join a travelling horror side show curated by Professor Lampini, before eventually knocking him off. The remains of Count Dracula (John Carradine) are part of the show, and Niemann revives the vampire to help him wreak revenge on those responsible for his incarceration.

Revenge complete, the nefarious doctor abandons Dracula and makes his way to locate the records of Frankenstein. There, Niemann stumbles across both the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) and the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr), frozen in ice from their previous encounter in Frankenstein meets the Wolfman. With the Wolfman revived and his human counterpart, Larry Talbot, eager to receive aid from Dr Niemann, a rivalry between Talbot and the hunchback for the affection of a gypsy girl threatens to thwart all their plans.

It wouldn’t be Halloween without the monochrome delights of Universal monster movies, and this one is great fun. The only way to improve a monster movie is to cram in as many more monsters as possible, and House of Frankenstein does exactly that. Karloff and Chaney are wonderful, and though Carradine is no Lugosi, he has a charm of his own. It’s just a shame Drac isn’t utilised more fully here. That’s really my only complaint, other than the short running time.

The shared universe of the Marvel superheroes is a huge accomplishment nowadays; though it could be argued that Universal did it first: combining a bunch of their main horror characters into one movie. House of Frankenstein was certainly entertaining, a film I’ll revisit many times.

9/10

1408 (2007)

Based on a Stephen King short story I’ve never read, 1408 stars John Cusack as Mike Enslin, a professional paranormal investigator and writer. Enslin is somewhat jaded and definitely sceptical concerning his investigations of allegedly haunted houses.

When Enslin decides to investigate the infamous Room 1408 in a New York City hotel, he expects the usual non event – despite the manager (Samuel L Jackson) attempting to dissuade him from entering the room altogether. No one, the writer is warned, lasts longer than an hour in Room 1408.

Enslin enters the room, and slowly things start to happen. From witnessing ghosts of the room’s previous occupants to facing his own guilt and loss, Mike is increasingly trapped and tormented inside the hotel room.

It’s largely a one man show for Cusack, who does a solid job in his role as cynical writer turned haunted prisoner. The film has plenty of creepy, jumpy moments and unexpected twists. I’ve said enough, I don’t want to give anymore away – but I will say I was more impressed by 1408 than I expected to be.

7/10

There we go folks, Halloween Horror Fest is all over for another year. See you next time. Unpleasant dreams!

Halloween Horror Fest By Night

Eloise (2016)

Eloise is a haunted asylum movie, with some time travel bumpf thrown in. The reason I wanted to see it, is because my daughter’s name is Eloise. The DVD case had stared up at me on more occasions than I can remember, and eventually I could resist no more. The film didn’t look great, but the title amused me far more than it should do.

There’s this dude – The Deep from The Boys – who stands to inherit millions, but he needs to sneak into a spooky mental hospital to get some info to help his cause. He recruits an old pal, plus Eliza Dushku and her autisitic brother to help him. Oh, and T1000 used to run the place. High jinks ensue.

To be fair, the Cert 15 should have warned me way-the-fuck-off this escapade. Eloise would have been better as a Scooby Doo straight-to-DVD movie – all they needed to do, was add a dog to The Deep’s gang. Lazy, stereotyped characters (in particular the black best friend and the autistic guy) are just insulting.

The DVD nearly went on the charity shop donation pile. The only reason I’ve kept it, is because if my daughter is naughty, I’ll threaten that she’s going to be made to watch it. Cruel.

4/10

Werewolf By Night (2022)

Technically, Werewolf By Night isn’t a movie – at 53 minutes, it’s a TV Special. But I just had to chuck it in for Halloween Horror Fest anyway.

Way back when I started reading comic books – around 1980 – Werewolf By Night was one of the first issues I ever picked up. Superheroes were great, but they had monster comics too? Take my money!

This latest reiteration of WBN stars the Jack Russell character (ha ha, yeah) mixing with a bunch of monster hunters to determine who will become the next chief monster hunter. Except two things: Jack is actually trying to help the hunted creature, and Jack is a monster himself – the werewolf of the title.

Shot for the most part in Universal style black & white, Werewolf By Night is a great mix of moody, visceral horror action and fanboy Easter Eggs. It might help if viewers are familiar with this corner of the Marvel Universe, but if not, it’s still a stylish thriller. I loved it and relish the potential of exploring the more macabre world of Marvel comics on screen.

9/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2019

A lonely forest at night.  The full moon peaks through the gnarled branches, as the wind whistles a mournful lament.  In the distance, a wolf howls… and the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, involuntarily.

It’s October, and that means it’s time for – Halloween Horror Fest!

For the last few years, I’ve spent the month of October watching a load of scary movies.  Some spooky; some creepy; some funny – and some shit-your-shoes-off horrifying.

And then I write a little review.  Like this…

The Frighteners (1996)

Okay – so The Frighteners isn’t a full-on horror film exactly, but it has plenty of supernatural elements that make it ideal viewing for this time of year.  And anyway, we needed to watch something that wouldn’t scare the little ‘un too much, if she overheard it while trying to get to sleep upstairs!

Michael J Fox stars as Frank Bannister, a one time architect turned dodgy psychic investigator.  Bannister can actually communicate with spirits, but chooses to employ his ghostly buddies to help him exploit customers with phoney exorcisms.

Except townspeople are dying from fatal heart attacks, and Frank suspects that the ghost of a deranged killer is behind it all.  Unable to convince the law that his supernatural powers are genuine, Bannister becomes the chief suspect – and must clear his name and stop the killer.

Directed by Peter Jackson, this film makes a decent attempt at being spooky, funny and entertaining all in one go.  Quality performances from Fox and the cast (including a small role for the great John Astin) – combined with the directors flair and skill – keep the film rolling along enjoyably.

The special effects were state of the art in 1996, and still hold up well today – with several creepy moments realised with CGI that is actually tastefully done.

The Frighteners just manages to steer away from becoming silly, and remains good fun.  Ideal for a Halloween movie that won’t cause nightmares, it’s like Most Haunted with a plot and (more) laughs.

7/10

More macabre movies soon…

Halloween Horror Fest Has Risen from the Grave (again)

Beetlejuice (1988)

Time for a change of pace for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest.  Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice is a spooky comedy horror, showcasing more of the Director’s trademark bizarre imagination. 

Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) are a happily married couple, living in their dream house.  They wind up dead, due to an unfortunate accident, and haunting their old home.

When a new family move in, who turn out to be less than ideal inhabitants, Adam and Barbara attempt to scare the new householders away.  After all their attempts fail, they’re left with no other choice than to recruit Beetlegeuse (Michael Keaton) to do the job for them.

Keaton is manically brilliant as sleazoid Beetlegeuse; a deranged, disreputable “bio-exorcist” with a seedy demeanour.

Burton manages to keep the film entertaining and lighthearted in his own goofy way.  Beetlejuice never becomes morbid or grim, instead it’s a fun (though dark) fantasy that oozes creativity.

8/10

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

In which good old Christopher Lee returns as Dracula, in his third outing as the Count for Hammer. 

This time around, Drac is out for revenge when is castle is exorcised by the Monsignor (Rupert Davies).  Not having anywhere to hang out, the Count is somewhat peeved and decides to enact his vengeance on the Monsignor’s virginal niece, played by lovely Veronica Carlson.

Hammer courageously attempt to avoid re-treading the same old formula in this film, though in reality the blueprint is never cast too far away.  The actors all do a fine job, including Davies, Carlson and Barry Andrews as Paul, the token heroic figure.

Lee is fantastic of course, with commanding presence and evil red eyes creating a powerful Lord of Vampires.  And the sets look great, like Kiss of the Vampire, bigger and more realistic than earlier efforts.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave isn’t a completely successful entry in the series, but it’s a professionally produced and entertaining film in the Gothic Hammer horror tradition.  Well worth a look.

7/10

Earth vs. Hallowe’en Horror Fest

The Thing (1982)

I’m not going to preach on about this film, let’s just say it’s pure genius.  John Carpenter’s The Thing is an excellent film – not just an excellent horror (or sci-fi) film, but an excellent film outright.

An isolated team of American scientists in the Antarctic are infiltrated by a shape changing creature from outer space.  As the mystery unfolds, the team have no idea who has been taken over by the thing and who is still human.  The tension mounts as the men’s suspicion of each other increases. title the thing

Great special effects (no CGI here) and believable performances (Kurt Russell as Mac) help, but it’s Carpenter’s ability to squeeze every ounce of unease, mistrust and anxiety out of the cast that makes it work.  A classic.

10/10

Paranormal Activity (2007)

When I first saw this film, the initial twenty minutes or so didn’t impress me.  It was like watching a feature length version of Most Haunted.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Most Haunted (great show), I just don’t want to watch a dramatised version of vaguely strange happenings when I can watch the TV show any time.  Plus, Paranormal Activity was another from the “found footage” genre, and while Blair Witch was OK I wasn’t a huge fan.

Where this film works though, is in tapping into a very primal fear – the fear of what goes on when we’re asleep.  There are some very scary moments where the viewer can’t help but wonder if anything strange occurs when they’re sleeping.  Sure, the hokum is ladled on mercilessly (frightened psychics, demonic possession) but there are genuinely hair-raising sequences that are really creepy.

The film works best when it’s low key, and plays on our fear of what goes bump in the night.  Definitely worth a watch, just don’t expect to be convinced that the “found footage” is real…

8/10