PopGap Diary: Octoblur 2022
Written by dorrk
Mother of mercy, is it Octoblur time again? The time of year when I let loose on all of the horror movies I've resisted watching during the other 11 months of the year?
Not that I've been fasting: 2022 has been a great year for new horror, with theatrical releases like X and Pearl (the latter of which features one of the best horror performances in decades), the popular Barbarian and Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, and the batshit effects of Alex Garland's Men. (My favorite theatrical release of the year so far is not horror, but shares some of the same Venn diagram real estate, Robert Eggers' The Northman.) There have also been fantastic streaming options, such as the ruminative Macedonian movie You Won't Be Alone, the brooding mystery Broadcast Signal Intrusion, and the devastating Danish production Speak No Evil (now playing on Shudder). Not too shabby! But even though I hungrily partook in these disturbing delights, I do not watch nearly as much horror as I want to throughout the ye/ar, because I hoard all manner of unseemly trash for the month of October, whereupon I binge it until I burst, or it becomes a blur. Or both.
In the past year, I went down some movie rabbit holes about cults and conspiracies, mostly of the political or criminal variety. I intentionally saved the horror-ific flavors of that genus for this Octoblur: cults, occult conspiracies, murderous hippie sects, killer kids, weird religious deviants... all the folks that make for the liveliest Halloween parties. Hopefully, I'll encounter some of each. In movies, not at Halloween parties.
Now, my methods aren't exact — I try not to know too much about most movies before I watch them — so some may not fit the bill exactly or even remotely. I am also not exclusive, and plan to cheat on this main theme of Octoblur 2022 with the usual flirty consorts: foreign horrors, slasher movies, Hall-O-Ween-themed exploits, some Hall-O-Fame revisits, and miscellaneous odds-and-ends that caught my eye in obscure movie corners of the internet or my ear on podcasts like All the Colors of the Dark or Pure Cinema.
Once again, I doubt this year's Octoblur exploits will live up to past binges. Who has the fricking time to watch (and review) 40+ horror movies in one month? Yes, I usually end up answering that question at the end of each Octoblur with a "Me, I guess." But it has to stop somewhere. Will I exhibit an unusual measure of sanity in Octoblur 2022, or is the lunatic running the asylum horror movie festival?
Octoblur 2022 Horror Movie Reviews
#71. Satan's Little Helper (2004)
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
#70. Trick or Treat (1986)
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
#69. May (2002)
Directed by Lucky McKee
#68. Hellions (2015)
Directed by Bruce McDonald
#67. Uzumaki (2000)
Directed by Higuchinsky
Octoblur 2022: 66. Society (1989)
Directed by Brian Yuzna
I watched Society (1989) last year as part of Octoblur 2021, but brought it out again this year to show to some friends.
Here's my review from last year, which still holds, although I now feel less derisive toward the narrative:
Some horror movies are all about their special effects, and if any movie deserves to perch triumphantly from atop a gooey, rubbery mountain of oozing ersatz flesh, it’s Brian Yuzna’s wackadoo Society (1989). And it’s a good thing that Society's climactic make-up effects orgy (literally) is so impressive because the rest of it barely qualifies as a passable first-draft screenplay. Bizarrely named Billy Warlock — an unholy mash-up of Charlie Sheen and Michael J. Fox— stars as an unimpressive character who takes close to 80 minutes to uncover the secret transhuman nature of his small town’s elite society, and if there’s a purpose to any of it beyond vague satire Yuzna never lets on. However, that late scene where high society lets loose with its excessive appetite for carnal consumption — courtesy of latex wizard Screaming Mad George — is something to see and makes the aimless narrative and non-existent characterizations seem incidental.
#65. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
Directed by Fritz Lang
#64. Devil Fetus (1983)
Directed by Hung-Chuen Lau
#63. Terrifier (2016)
Directed by Damien Leone
#62. Murder Rock (1984)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
#61. The Ogre (1988)
Directed by Lamberto Bava
#60. Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)
Directed by Dario Argento
#59. This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967)
Directed by José Mojica Marins
#58. Grave Robbers (1989)
Directed by Rubén Galindo Jr.
#57. All Hallows' Eve (2013)
Directed by Damien Leone
#56. The Legacy (1978)
Directed by Richard Marquand
#55. The Ninth Gate (1999)
Directed by Roman Polanski
#54. Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
#53. Frankenstein (1931)
Directed by James Whale
#52. The Wicker Man (1973)
Directed by Robin Hardy
#51. Halloween Ends (2022)
Directed by David Gordon Green
#50. The Night Stalker (1972)
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
#49. Sheitan (2006)
Directed by Kim Chapiron
#48. Bloody Sect (1982)
Directed by Ignacio F. Iquino
#47. Satan's Slave (1982)
Directed by Sisworo Gautama Putra
This low-budget Indonesian cult classic was given a loving remake a few years ago by Joko Anwar (as Satan's Slaves (2017), reviewed during Octoblur 2018), and it's easy to see how, despite its limitations, it fueled the nightmares of a future horror director. Director Sisworo Gautama Putra applies a dreamlike quality to this story of a wealthy family whose secular ways have made them vulnerable to evil following the death of their matriarch, and that creepy atmosphere — hints of Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot (1979), aided by some subtly odd production design — compensates for the iffy special effects and poor staging during key moments. If there's a critical flaw to Satan's Slave (1982), it's that its scares don't mount and build exponentially but rather exist separate enough from each other to make its climax less impactful than desired. Especially compared to the crazy horror coming out of other Asian countries during the same time period, this is pretty mild, slow and anti-climactic. And, although it's what one might expect from a horror movie from a country with strict religious practices, the didactic epilogue is a snooze. Putra seems to try and counteract that with a shocking revelation of some kind, but I have no idea what the final shot is supposed to suggest.
#46. Satan's Slave (1976)
Directed by Norman J. Warren
#45. The Devil's Hand (1962)
Directed by William J. Hole Jr.
#44. Häxan (1922)
Directed by Benjamin Christensen
#43. Lucifer's Women (1974)
Directed by Paul Aratow
#42. Satan's Baby Doll (1982)
Directed by Mario Bianchi
#41. The Doll of Satan (1969)
Directed by Ferruccio Casapinta
#40. The Thing (1982)
Directed by John Carpenter
Taken in tandem with An American Werewolf in London (1981) from the year before, John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) is the peak of practical special effects. So brilliantly gruesome and creative in design and execution. That alone is a thing of staggering beauty and, sadly, a relic of the past. The movie is also a brilliant study of paranoia, with indelible characters subtly portrayed by a stellar cast of actors. One of the titans of genre cinema. Any cinema, for that matter.
#39. Satan's Blood (1978)
Directed by Carlos Puerto
#38. Enter the Devil (1972)
Directed by Frank Q. Dobbs
#37. Demons of the Mind (1972)
Directed by Peter Sykes
#36. Satan's Children (1975)
Directed by Joe Wiezycki
#35. Satan's Cheerleaders (1977)
Directed by Greydon Clark
#34. The Sentinel (1977)
Directed by Michael Winner
#33. Tragic Ceremony (1972)
Directed by Riccardo Freda
#32. Weird Woman (1944)
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
This amiable B-movie is the first of three adaptations of the Fritz Leiber novel Conjure Wife — and is decidedly less artful than Burn, Witch, Burn (1962; aka Night of the Eagle), which I reviewed seven Octoblurs ago — and is hokey fun within its limitations. Lon Chaney, Jr. stars as a sociology professor — his domain is rationalism – who marries a young woman raised on island superstition. When he makes her throw away all of her voodoo-ish charms, his life quickly goes down the toilet. Although it misses the darker undercurrent of the 1962 version, the cast is strong (look for Elizabeth Russell, from Cat People (1942)) and the tone is light and bouncy (incongruously at times). The ending is its weakest point, an attempt to tuck away any residual darkness, but reflective of its era. One of a handful of attempts to parlay the popular Inner Sanctum radio program series into a franchise of movies starring Chaney.
#31. Ring of Darkness (1979)
Directed by Pier Carpi
#30. Lisa and the Devil (1973)
Directed by Mario Bava
#29. Black Candles (1982)
Directed by José Ramón Larraz
#28. Eye of the Devil (1966)
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
#27. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
Directed by Alan Gibson
This is an oddball final chapter in Christopher Lee's Dracula career. Alan Gibson once again directs from a script by Don Houghton, but this feels miles away from their previous collaboration on Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). This one feels less like a vampire movie than it does a James Bond-knock off. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is back, this time at the behest of a secret government agency that has infiltrated a Satanic cult of prominent politicians, scientists, and industry leaders. As they uncover a plot to release a new superstrain of Bubonic plague, Van Helsing traces it back to the CEO of a new multinational corporation... and the CEO is Dracula (Lee)! For a complete curveball, and with a Dracula that is nearly unrecognizable from the ineffectual goon of earlier franchise entries, The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) is still pretty fun as an unlikely genre mishmash, if a bit slow. It also isn't interested in the teasing glimpses of nudity offered by the previous couple of movies but commits boldly to the new era of gratuitous skin. Joanna Lumley appears in the role previously played by Stephanie Beacham and doesn't make much of an impression. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) ends like it doesn't know it's the last of its series, and maybe like it doesn't even know it's the end of a movie, which leaves a weird aftertaste, but otherwise, it's a nice swerve to finish off what turned out to be a generally high-quality horror franchise.
#26. Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)
Directed by Alan Gibson
Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) ignores the previous movie and jumps right into some new action as Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) — He's back, having been MIA since Brides of Dracula (1960) — chases down Dracula (Christopher Lee) and impales him with a broken wagon wheel. A fun title screen jump skips 100 years, to Van Helsing's great granddaughter (Stephanie Beacham), who bops around swinging London with a "group" of friends including the occult-obsessed Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame). Johnny must have seen Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), because he tries to enact nearly the same ritual. Drac returns and fixates on taking long-desired revenge by preying on Van Helsing's lovely descendant, but must also deal with Van Helsing's son (also Cushing). Alan Gibson directs crisply and with style. Caroline Munro gets some nice crazy moments, and Lee is scarier than usual. The incongruous score, pairing jazzy disco with gothic horror, is a nice change of pace.
#25. Scars of Dracula (1970)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
#24. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
Directed by Peter Sasdy
#23. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)
Directed by Freddie Francis
#22. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Directed by Terence Fisher
#21. Horror of Dracula (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher
#20. Angel Heart (1987)
Directed by Alan Parker
#19. Deliver Us from Evil (2014)
Directed by Scott Derrickson
#18. I Drink Your Blood (1970)
Directed by David E. Durston
#17. The Believers (1987)
Directed by Andrew Gaynord
#16. Robin Redbreast (1970)
Directed by James MacTaggart
#15. White Zombie (1932)
Directed by Victor Halperin
#14. Tone-Deaf (2019)
Directed by Richard Bates, Jr.
#13. Glorious (2022)
Directed by Rebekah McKendry
Directed by Rebekah McKendry, co-host of the All the Colors of the Dark podcast, Glorious (2022) is a well-constructed little two-hander that relentlessly prods at one of my greatest fears: contact with public restroom surfaces. It's maybe not fair to her movie that this was my main pre-occupation while watching it, but she did set her movie inside a rest-stop bathroom, and star Ryan Kwanten starts by resting his face on a disgusting toilet seat (and later worries that he touched his face with hands that touched the seat... Dude!), and at one point curls up on the floor inside a stall. The floor inside a stall!
So, OK, there's a Lovecraftian demon (voiced by the unmistakable J.K. Simmons) in the next stall holding him prisoner, but that doesn't mean he needs to lay down where 100 other people splatter-pissed recently. I wasn't only distracted; the type of soul-searching dialog exchanged between Kwanten and the demon lurking behind the fancifully painted gloryhole isn't really my cup of tea, though it will appeal to others and is fairly well-done for a style of faux-insightful psychological introspection that I associate with middling off-off-off-Broadway playwriting. I also think that McKendry neuters her movie with a twist that turns it the whole narrative into a cheap trick rather than something probing some kind of truth, as it feigns doing for its agreeably short running time. If the twist's reveal had been known from the start, this had the potential to much more interesting. Good imagery, though.
#12. All My Friends Hate Me (2021)
Directed by Andrew Gaynord
#11. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2008)
Directed by John Erick Dowdle
(I didn’t mention the incessant, annoying, and absurdly aggressive video artifacts that Dowdle digitally added to “The Butcher’s” video footage, as if video tapes shifted tint every half-second. Calm down.)
#10. The Innocents (2021)
Directed by Eskil Vogt
#09. Here Comes Hell (2019)
Directed by Jack McHenry
A clever idea pulled off with far more panache than expected, Here Comes Hell (2019) attempts to merge the 1930s-style "old dark house" genre with the more contemporary mayhem of The Evil Dead (1981). A small cast of archetypal characters assembles in a decaying English manor for a night of revelry, but a misguided seance opens a gateway to hell. Gore ensues. Shot on video on an extremely low budget — reportedly less than $25,000 — Here Comes Hell surprisingly excels most during its dialog-heavy set-up. Director Jack McHenry gets sharp, measured performances from his cast, and the script co-written by Alice Sidgwick is witty and knowing about old-school drawing room comedies. This type of mannered homage is very easy to butcher, but as a unit, the cast and crew nail the style. Up through the seance, which is extremely effective thanks to more tight directing and a wonderful performance by veteran Maureen Bennett, Here Comes Hell seems like a real hidden gem. Once "Hell" breaks loose, however, so does McHenry's careful control, and some initially fun practical special effects give way to poor CGI in scenes that seem poorly devised. But just when Here Comes Hell seems like it's run out of original ideas or has gotten too sloppy, it manages to insert inspired moments of creativity that suggest a lot of promise for future movies from McHenry's Trashouse Productions. While not as holistically parodic as
Larry Blamire's wonderful The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001), Here Comes Hell shares a lot of the same spirit and enough skill to earn that solid company. Jessica Webber makes for a very appealing heroine, so hopefully there's more to come from here. as well.
#08. Fear No Evil (1981)
Directed by Frank LaLoggia
This unusual Devil-thriller seems like pieces of 4 or 5 different movies smashed into one, and I'm not sure it always picks the best pieces, but it sure is an interesting mess to behold. A trio of reincarnating holy warriors are on constant guard against the rebirth of Satan, who has returned this time in the form of teen weirdo Andrew (Stefan Arngrim) — a classmate of the latest reincarnation of Arcangel Hulle (Kathleen Rowe McAllen). After some gay panic between Andrew and a hoodlum — whose idea of bullying is to kiss other boys on the mouth while naked in the gym shower — Andrew finally gets around to raising the dead just in time to interrupt the town Passion Play. If that doesn't sound like a carefully crafted plot, you're right: writer-director Frank LaLoggia is all over the place in Fear No Evil (1981), jumping decades, flipping genders, and focusing on what seem to be non-sequitur subplots, instead of, you know, Satan himself gearing up for some mayhem. There is some elegant filmmaking and acting at times. As one of the angels, Elizabeth Hoffman is especially delicate, striving for a level of beatification that no movie like this deserves, and Arngrim is pretty good, too — when he wails, again and again, "I was promised!" his anguish is palpable, even if his meaning is up for grabs. At other times, Fear No Evil is full of exactly the kind of cheap ham-work you might expect from low-budget horror, and, despite some bonkers moments, seems to not know where its exploitation energies are best spent. During the finale, LaLoggia certainly attempts to pull off an extravaganza of dazzling special effects, and his ambition is admirable if his execution isn't. The movie is also somewhat renowned for its notable selection of post-punk and new wave songs — Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Ramones, etc. — that seem to have been randomly scattered on the soundtrack in uneven clumps. A real curiosity. Future "Coen Brother" Joel Coen is credited as an Assistant Editor, the same year that he earned a similar credit on another low-budget horror indie, The Evil Dead (1981).
Interlude: My Favorite "Cult" Movies
Before I forget, here's a list of some of my favorite horror movies about cults, loosely defined:
- Rosemary's Baby (1968); dir.: Roman Polanski
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); dir.: Philip Kaufman
- Get Out (2017); dir.: Jordan Peele
- Suicide Club (2001); dir.: Sion Sono
- Freaks (1932); dir.: Tod Browning
- The House of the Devil (2009); dir.: Ti West
- The Wicker Man (1973); dir.: Robin Hardy
- The Witch (2015); dir.: Robert Eggers
- Midsommar (2019); dir.: Ari Aster
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956); dir.: Don Siegel
- Suspiria (1977); dir.: Dario Argento
- The Howling (1981); dir.: Joe Dante
- Village of the Damned (1960); dir.: Wolf Rilla
- Bone Tomahawk (2015); dir.: S. Craig Zahler
- King Kong (1933); dir.: Merian C. Cooper
- Race with the Devil (1975); dir.: Jack Starrett
- Us (2019); dir.: Jordan Peele
- Messiah of Evil (1973); dir.: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz
- The Mephisto Waltz (1971); dir.: Paul Wendkos
- I Walked with a Zombie (1943); dir.: Jacques Tourneur
- Don't Deliver Us from Evil (1971); dir.: Joël Séria
- A Dark Song (2016); dir.: Liam Gavin
- Island of Lost Souls (1932); dir.: Erle C. Kenton
- Starry Eyes (2014); dir.: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
- The Devils (1971); dir.: Ken Russell
- The City of the Dead (1960); dir.: John Llewellyn Moxey
- Hereditary (2018); dir.: Ari Aster
- Blood on Satan's Claw (1971); dir.: Piers Haggard
- The Neon Demon (2016); dir.: Nicolas Winding Refn
- Angel Heart (1987); dir.: Alan Parker
- Alison's Birthday (1981); dir.: Ian Coughlan
- Burn, Witch, Burn (1962); dir.: Sidney Hayers
- The Children (1980); dir.: Max Kalmanowicz
- Witchcraft (1964); dir.: Don Sharp
- Society (1989); dir.: Brian Yuzna
- The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977); dir.: Don Taylor
- Baskin (2015); dir.: Can Evrenol
- Bloody Birthday (1981); dir.: Ed Hunt
#07: The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Another of my most-anticipated watches this month is Hammer Studio's occult thriller The Devil Rides Out (1968), directed by Terence Fisher, which fits perfectly with Octoblur 2022's main theme of cults, preferably Satanic. Christopher Lee stars as, surprisingly, the hero of this story, a Count who drops in unannounced on an old friend and suspects he has crashed a Satanist club. With the help of a dim-witted skeptic (Leon Greene), Lee conspires to subvert an upcoming Sabbath ritual and release two new initiates from the hypnotic grasp of malevolent leader Mocata (Charles Gray, who would play Bond villain Blofeld a few years later in Diamonds are Forever (1971)) and Satan himself. The Devil Rides Out moves swiftly from premise to action and gleefully mixes authentic Luciferian tropes (The Path of the Left Hand! The Goat of Mendes!) with more fantastical rituals and incantations. It's fun, even if it's never clear what if anything this cult has in store, or why a goat-headed Satan is making personal appearances at such modest shindigs. This is one of a few horror movies of the period that was bizarrely rated X in the UK and G in the U.S. Hopefully, I'll see more Lee and Fisher collabs later this month.
#06: Eyes of Fire (1983)
Directed by Avery Crounse
One of my most-anticipated movies this Octoblur has been Eyes of Fire (1983), directed by Avery Crounse. It's seen a big boost in its reputation since the release of last year's mammoth folk horror documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021) and a subsequent release on Blu-ray and streaming. Sadly, I found this ambitious frontier horror mostly impenetrable, due to incoherent storytelling. A group of English/Irish settlers face unknown horrors as they travel... somewhere? For some reason? While there are eerie images in Eyes of Fire (1983) — faces embedded in a tree trunk, naked mud people in random tableaux, some kind of bright-eyed hag who does...something? — Crounse seemed especially challenged in drawing characters, making sense of their actions, and connecting scenes to tell a story — it probably doesn't help that this particular story has two narrators, a complication that adds no value but doubles the confusion. Scenes begin with no context, end with no climax, and cut to seemingly unrelated other scenes. There is no anchor to which a viewer might moor itself, making all of the long moody spaces between eerie moments painfully uninteresting: Why am I watching these people? What am I supposed to glean from anything that is happening? — These types of foundational questions can kill the buzz of the coolest horror scenes, and, at best, Eyes of Fire's scenes were sort of neat but not all that special. Like the all-too-brief early appearance of iconic Christmas crazy Will Hare, greatly disappointing.
#05: Viy (1967)
Directed by Georgi Kropachyov, Konstantin Yershov
I watched Viy (1967) as part of Octoblur 2015 and more than just its wild final 10 minutes has stuck with me since then. There's something about the color and setting of Viy that combine for an especially haunting ethereality. Khoma, a seminary student on vacation has an unfortunate encounter with a witch — she rides him like a pony and he beats her to death — and is then commanded by her rich family to pray over her corpse for three nights to release her soul from the evil spirit that possesses it. Khoma, however, is neither a good student nor a devout holy servant, and finds himself at battle with supernatural forces beyond his comprehension. Leonid Kuravlyov gives a nice comic performance as Khoma, and Natalya Varley is stunning as the possessed girl, but it's the look and feel of this Soviet-era period piece that makes it indelible. That this failed to parlay into a notable career for either director is a shame.
#04: Black Moon (1934)
Directed by Roy William Neill
Classic "island horror" starring Dorothy Burgess as Juanita, a New York socialite who is mysteriously drawn back to the Carribean island where she was raised — against the urging of her uncle, who has noted increased intensity in the local voodoo rituals. If you can get over that this one of those movies where a character says, "The natives are restless!," as well as some less vague expressions of racial discontent , there are some potent thrills in Black Moon (1934) involving human sacrifice and child grooming, even if they may have been muted by production codes. stars Fay Wray, who would find herself in even deeper "island horror" a few year later in King Kong (1933).
#03: Hell Fest (2018)
Directed by Gregory Plotkin
One of the better recent slashers, I first watched Hell Fest (2018) a couple of Octoblurs ago, in 2019. It's lean and doesn't caught tangle itself up in the overwritten or self-aware garbage that makes too many post-Scream slashers a drag. It sticks to the classic formula, and does so in the neat setting of a horror theme park. Good stuff that deserves a bigger following.
#02: Satan's School for Girls (1973)
Directed by David Lowell Rich
My second Made-for-TV movie of Octoblur 2022's opening night is the tantalizingly titled Satan's School for Girls (1973). Well, tantalizing and more than a little spoilery. Pamela Franklin (fresh off the great And Soon the Darkness (1970)) stars as a young woman who enrolls undercover in the private school that she holds responsible for her little sister's suicide. It turns out that her sister isn't the sole casualty, due to a secret... well, it's in the title, so it's not a secret. And there really isn't enough to it beyond the title's description, other than a pleasing 1970s vibe. If there's a plan of any kind beyond recruiting future Satanists, it's not clear, and Satan (who describes himself provocatively as "the hammer of witches") doesn't even seem that into it. Underwhelming now, but in its time maybe evoked the Manson girls with some potency. Co-stars Kate Jackson, Jo Van Fleet and Cheryl Ladd. An Aaron Spelling production.