I’m one of those people. You know, those people? You must know those people; everyone does. We’re … the shadow people, the indoors types, the summer haters; the autumn people. Summer is when we hibernate, locked inside with curtains drawn and several hundred hours of media lined up on Netflix, avoiding the sun until our Vitamin D deficiency becomes a medical concern.
But come autumn? October?! Halloween?!1(one)! If you don’t love … okay, you don’t have to love Halloween, but if you’re not at least pumped about the leaves changing and the weather cooling down, then we can still be friends — you just might get sick of me like, really fast.
Halloween is my favourite day of they year, including my own birthday, and October is the perfect month to spend afternoons taking long walks in the chilly air, and evenings curled up in the couch, terrifying yourself absolutely silly with some good, Halloween Horror. Or, hate watching low budget horror trash that has no place calling itself ‘film’.
What to watch this October, you may ask? Well, lets take a look …
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
My love of the possession sub-genre is well documented, and not just because the idea of your body being taken over by a demonic entity is terrifying. I am fascinated by the fact that in real life, possession occurs, though as a mental health condition. In some cases, the sufferer can display what appear to be powers or abilities beyond explanation, but most often are examples of the incredible capacity of the human brain and body to just wild out.
Emily Rose is a film that at first glance, you might think is a fairly typical entry into the sub-genre; a sheltered girl is possessed by a demon, and develops an affinity for white nightgowns and cursing, until a priest is called in to fix things. Unlike other films of the genre, this is not a film about saving the girl, but instead a study in what happens when an exorcism goes wrong.
The film opens with the death of the titular Emily Rose, a college student who was being exorcised by a priest when she died from a multitude of injuries. The attendant priest is charged in her death, but sensing a true concern for Emily, his defence lawyer takes the bold step of trying to legitimise the idea Emily was possessed, by examining cultural belief in the concept. Meanwhile, the prosecution can present a strong medical cause for each of Emily’s symptoms, and argues that she was killed due to neglect and indifference. Through this framing, we get to explore the concept of possession piece by piece, examining the familiar tropes from a logical perspective, even while learning more about what various spiritualists believe about the issue.
While it is essentially a courtroom drama, Emily Rose rests firmly in the horror family. Tension and fear is masterfully built throughout every scene, and the real terror comes from Emily’s possession and the chaotic scenes of her exorcism. Jennifer Carpenter as Emily displays an astonishing ability to contort her face and body in truly disturbing ways — she’s given some help by CGI at key moments, but some of the films most genuinely upsetting visuals come from Carpenter holding herself in some bizarre pose, her face twisted into a monstrous grimace. If you love good body horror then this film will upset you in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. The possession is expertly presented, keeping the question of what is going on constantly in play — unlike other possessions, there is no ‘geist activity, no objects are flung around by unseen forces to confirm a supernatural presence; there is just Emily and her freakish strength, horrific screaming and her quite convincing claims she is stuffed full of demons.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose adds an extra element of terror once you learn it’s based on a disturbing true story, of a girl named Anneliese Michel who died of medical neglect after a series of exorcisms in the 1970’s. Anneliese was epileptic, and showed signs of schizophrenia but as her delusions got worse, her religious upbringing led her, her parents and the family priest to conclude she was possessed. Anneliese, by any understanding of her condition, needed doctors — lots of them. Instead, she was exorcised to death. Emily Rose is not just a cracking good slice of Halloween horror, oh no. It comes with the kind of True Story pedigree you’d be a fool not to scare yourself stupid with.
Let The Right One In
Based on the Swedish book of the same name, Let The Right One In is one of the better films made in the last few decades, if not the history of moving pictures, and an absolute must for anyone who truly appreciates the horror genre as being more than just ‘how scary it can be’. That said, Let The Right One In has plenty of dark, scary moments.
Set in 1980’s Sweden, the film follows 12 year old Oskar, a lonely and bullied little boy who is beginning to show the first signs of a very disturbed personality. He keeps a folder of news clippings about grisly murders, and hacks up trees with hunting knives as he acts out violent fantasies of revenge. Oskar, it is strongly hinted, is a serial killer in the making; a budding maniac. One night, Oskar meets Eli, who he assumes is a twelve year old girl and who has moved in next door. Eli is strange and lonely, too, but her strangeness is more acute — she only comes out and night, and goes barefoot in the snow because she doesn’t remember how to feel the cold. Oskar barely registers these odd facts, because he and Eli are at once smitten with each other.
What follows is a powerful, strange, twisted, and yet oddly pure love story. Eli, it is not a spoiler to reveal, is a vampire and centuries older than she looks.Unlike other stories about vampire children, Eli is not an adult trapped in a child’s body. She is more worldly and wise than other twelve year olds but emotionally — mentally — she is the child she appears to be. Let The Right One In is a love story and a horror film, and the horror elements run deeper than Eli’s thirst for blood. Eli is an adorable kid, though her particular strain of vampirism occasionally warps her face and body in subtle, disturbing ways. We see glimpses of her in action, and spectacularly well-framed scenes hint at at something far more terrifying. Creepier still, is the human companion Eli had to take on to survive in an adult world, a man who kills for her, is enthralled to her, not through hypnotism or a promise of immortality, but because he’s a paedophile. Let The Right One In is a heavy, powerful watch; a romantic horror coming of age film, that manages to find a strange light in a very dark place. For anyone who appreciates horror as something more, this film can’t be missed.
The Wicker Man (not the good one)
It’s practically a law that if you watch a bunch of seasonal movies you must include a terrible, or terribly brilliant suggestion. I mean, if you don’t, they take away your Netflix account.
There is long and ever growing list of Perfect Films That Do Not Need Remakes and yet, however often they fail, terrible remakes are still made. The Wicker Man (2006) is not only regarded as one of the worst remakes of all time, but also one of the worst films, period. Following the basic premise of the 1973 original, The Wicker Man sees Nic Cage’s troubled, uptight mainland cop, Edward Malus (… I know) sent to a remote island to investigate a missing child. Arriving on the island he finds the residents strangely unhelpful, some going so far as to deny the missing girl ever existed. Worse yet, he discovers he may also be the child’s father. Our hero eventually uncovers the island’s strange, pagan beliefs and practices, including human sacrifice to encourage a good harvest, and its from there, the terror unfolds.
The 1973 original was a a masterpiece. Melding psychological horror and abstract musical interludes to ruminate on a range of fears and suspicions, it tackled complex themes like religion, gender, sexual repression and sexual freedom. Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward were at the centre of it all and in their talented hands, a story that should have been ridiculous became one of the most important horror films of our time.
The 2006 remake … doesn’t do any of those things — not a one of them. Instead it’s an hour and a half of Nic Cage having what might be a very real nervous breakdown on camera. Even if you haven’t seen the film by now, you’ve seen the memes; Nic Cage running around an island in a gorilla costume, punching random women; Nic Cage shrieking, and I mean shrieking about bees; Nic Cage creating cinema history with his mush-mouthed delivery of the now iconic line ‘How’d it get burned? How’ditgetburned? hOwD iT gET bURNEDDDDDD?!’. The plot is an absolute mess, so much so it’s hard to explain with only text. In the original, Edward Woodward portrayed a man so deeply repressed and fervently Christian, that at points in the story the audience finds themselves defending the Islanders from his bloody-mindedness. The same is true in the remake — that the audience sides with the Islanders, but for quite different reasons.
It is spectacular, it really is. It is a prime example of a film that legitimately manages to be so, so terribly bad, that you actively enjoy watching it, even if you hate it at the same time. And after the heaviness and grim themes of our first two suggestions., you deserve to laugh until you cry at something that tried so hard to be clever, and failed this badly.
Enjoy your Halloween watches, and come back next week for more.