To All the Horror Movies I’ve Never Seen Before
We love a good horror movie. Slasher films, sci-fi horror, supernatural horror, ghosts, demons, blood and gore; what’s not to love? This Halloween month, to celebrate, I’ve—foolishly—decided to undertake a monumental project: take all the horror movies I’ve never seen and watch one for every day in October. Reviews and reactions posted every Sunday (except, at the time of editing this, it’s now Tuesday, whoops).
Sidenote, this series is not spoiler-free. It features 100% pure spoilers and spoiler by-products. Mostly because I can’t contain myself when giving movie synopses, and also because these reviews are about 45% actual reviews and 55% stream of consciousness thoughts and feelings recorded while watching the films.
Without further ado, let us begin.
1. 10/1 – Escape from Tomorrow
My immediate thought upon starting this movie was I cannot believe they managed to film an entire movie in Disney World. As the film progressed, there are obvious scenes in front of a green screen, times when specific things needed to happen that just could not be shot in Magic Kingdom without being caught and banned for life. The effect is almost seamless; as usual with low-budget green screen, there’s just something a little off about it. Oh, yeah, did I not mention? They filmed in Disney World without permission. This is one of the details that has stuck with me about this movie, but I’ll get into it a little later.
SYNOPSIS AND STATS
Escape from Tomorrow follows the White family—Jim, Emily, Elliot, and Sara—on their summer Disney World vacation. While in Magic Kingdom, Jim becomes fixated on two French girls, following them around the park with his kids in tow.
Released in 2013, Randy Moore directed and wrote the film. It stars Roy Abramsohn as Jim, and Elena Schuber as Emily. It introduced Katelynn Rodriguez as Sara, and Jack Dalton as Elliot. Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru played the French girls.
Escape from Tomorrow features guerilla-style filming and production. The cast kept scripts on their phones, and handheld video cameras “similar to those used by park visitors” were used in order to escape detection.
I didn’t have high expectations for this movie. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a full-fledged zombie apocalypse film, back when I was young and naïve (a week ago) and thought the filmmakers had permission to film in Disney World. Honestly, I don’t know what I expected. I still don’t know. All I do know is, at the time of writing this, it’s been three days since I watched Escape from Tomorrow and I’m still thinking about it. This movie utterly haunts me. Most likely for all the wrong reasons.
“YOU TOLD ELLIOT I LOOK LIKE EMILY DICKENSON?”
This was a weird one, made more so because it was filmed in black and white. Disney World is exciting, and colorful, and seeing it in grayscale was unsettling. Also, Jim was creepy about the French girls. Watching him constantly search for them and then having his kids notice what he’s doing was gross; he gave off ‘threesome fantasy’ vibes, like you could just tell what he was thinking about them. What also bothered me was the stereotypical French-girl-sensuality was grossly exaggerated; no one really goes around giggling coquettishly all the time.
Thirty-seven minutes in, I felt like I was watching someone’s vacation videos; they sat me down on the couch, queued up the projector, and said, “here’s what we did on our summer vacation!” Everything kind of happened really fast after that, and nothing connected at the end. In the beginning, we get a hint that some people are sick, but it’s not until the middle of the film that it’s revealed that there’s a “cat flu” going around. And it’s not even much of a revelation; Jim takes his daughter Sara to the nurse’s station for a scraped knee and—nearly sobbing—the nurse says something along the lines of “Cat Flu’s going around, can’t be too careful.” And then nothing until the end. Essentially, there’s a long wait for very little payoff.
I will say I witnessed one of the more disturbing deaths I’ve seen in a movie in a while. It’s sudden; you kind of figure something is going to happen—the French girls play a pivotal role in this, and, of course, it’s never explained—but it all happens at once at the end. All I can say to sum it up is “Nothing makes sense but they filmed secretly at Disney World so I guess that’s cool.”
Escape from Tomorrow is not a good movie. And yet, despite its lackluster delivery, it deeply disturbed me. Not while I watched it, but later, for days after. When I really think about it, what gets me is they filmed around people who had no idea what was going on. There’s a scene when Emily has just hallucinated a horrifying demon face, Sara is asking incessantly for souvenirs (as kids do), and Emily hauls back and slaps Sara across the face. Emily is devastated she just hit her child, of course, but this all happens in front of a Disney employee. Jim hastily explains “she’s never done that before.” But you have to think, did they explain to that employee that they’re filming a movie after the fact? Is that man really a Disney employee?
Another example: as Jim and Sara come out of the Soarin’ ride at Epcot, one of the French girls approaches Jim, asking him to come with them. The exchange ends with her spitting the nastiest loogey in his face as guests are filing out of the ride. More perfect strangers who have no idea what’s going on just watched a girl spit right in someone’s face. I feel like that’s what unsettled me the most about this film; the fact that regular people, on their vacations, are seeing things like this. They’re trying to watch the fireworks at Epcot when all of a sudden there’s some guy running through the crowd shouting for his lost daughter.
I could probably look up production details or trivia and answer all my questions about just what the hell was going on while they filmed this. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to know. Something in my lizard brain wants to continue to be deeply unsettled by this film. And, as with my entire experience with Escape from Tomorrow, I’m not sure how I feel about that.
2. 10/2 – Re-Animator
Re-Animator is a win for me; it’s a fun little horrible romp complete with glowing life serum, decapitation, unlikely-roommates turned literal-gruesome-twosome, and Pet Sematary-style cat puppets. In a word, charming.
SYNOPSIS AND STATS
Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s 1922 novella Herbert West—Reanimator, Stuart Gordon’s 1985 film follows med student Herbert West as he attempts to perfect his reagent, a serum that can re-animate dead bodies. Herbert and his classmate Dan Cain begin testing the reagent on corpses in the hospital morgue, only to “conflict with Dr. Carl Hill, who is infatuated with Cain’s fiancée and wants to claim the invention as his own.”
The film stars Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, Bruce Abbott as Dan Cain, David Gale as Dr. Carl Hill, and Barbara Crampton as Megan Halsey, Dan’s fiancée.
I didn’t have any expectations before watching, but I assumed I’d like it. Chances are, if it came out at least ten years before I was born, I’ll love it. Also, I’m a big fan of Frankenstein-style mad scientists, and Herbert West pretty much fits that bill. Bottom line: if the quality is shitty, the wardrobe features mostly denim and filthy sneakers, and the soundtrack was performed on a Casio keyboard, I’ll watch it. As I’m sure you can guess by now, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is my all-time favorite movie.
“CAT DEAD, DETAILS LATER”
First of all, I have to give Amazon props for their captions; as soon as the opening credits started rolling, there’s a caption that reads “creepy fast-paced science fiction music” which is the most descriptive and accurate caption I think I’ve ever seen. Inversely, I kind of hate opening credits that have their own sequence and aren’t overlaid within the film. Television-style opening credits in movies, I can’t stand that. But I will say there are some nice colors in the Re-Animator credits.
A few fun things I made note of in the beginning: while Dan is wheeling a body into the morgue, there’s one with its arm flopped over the side of the gurney. Dan puts it back, and then when he scoots by, the arm flops over again. And now you’re thinking, “oh my god that corpse is going to sit up and kill Dan.” But I made a note along the lines of, “I thought that arm was gonna touch his butt.” I also made a note later about Dan’s Talking Heads poster, which I appreciated. Also, his cat jumps on his back and makes a bumblebee sound, so obviously there are no actual cat sounds used in this movie.
I found myself delighted by Dan and Herbert’s unexpected, bumbling friendship. They’re like two dumb buddy cops who kind of don’t know what they’re doing half the time. I’m a sucker for close male friendships, mostly because that’s not really a thing we see often at the forefront of a movie. I wouldn’t exactly call their friendship healthy, as they bond by bringing corpses back to life, but it’s nice to see either way.
Re-Animator features the most delicious bookended images and the most vicious irony; both the beginning and the end of the film show us Dan failing to resuscitate a patient. I’m conflicted over how much I should reveal, even though I said in the beginning that I’m a big ol’ spoiler-machine. Given that this film came out in 1985, am I correct in assuming no one cares about spoilers now?
Whatever. After a whole battle with a bunch of gross, reanimated corpses, Megan dies. Of course she does, because this is the ‘80s and we as an audience and as writers hadn’t yet asked ourselves, “hey, why are we killing off all the women just for the sake of a man’s sympathetic story arc?” And, of course, Megan doesn’t actually do any fighting and is just strangled in an elevator. But the point is, Dan did fight the gross reanimated corpses. He saw firsthand what the reagent does, and yet, after he fails to resuscitate Megan, our last image is Dan using the serum on her. He went through all that and he still uses it on her. My last note on Re-Animator is complete and utter disbelief, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it.
3. 10/3 – Area 51
This movie was a straight up doozy. Alien abduction, sneaking into Area 51, and the American southwest? Very much relevant to my interests. Initially, the entry for October 3rd was going to be Battle Royale, but Amazon didn’t have subtitles, which led me to Area 51. For whatever reason, it wasn’t even on my list, despite being about everything I love in the world (aliens are a big selling point for me on literally anything). Despite this film throwing me for a damn loop, almost everyone on Amazon hated it.
SYNOPSIS AND STATS
Filmed in 2009 but released in 2015, Area 51 follows Reid, Ben, and Darrin as they attempt to break into famed military base Area 51 in Nevada. All three friends are avid conspiracy theorists, but Reid becomes obsessed after he disappears in the middle of a party and returns with no memory of it. His growing fascination with extraterrestrials “leaves him detached from his family and even causes him to lose his job.” Jelena, another conspiracy theorist whose father worked at Area 51 and was subsequently killed, joins the boys in Nevada, looking for answers.
The film is shot in a found footage, mockumentary style, directed and written by Oren Peli. It stars Reid Warner as Reid, Darrin Bragg as Darrin, Ben Rovner as Ben, and Jelena Nik as Jelena. Glenn Campbell also makes an appearance as himself, Area 51 expert and guide.
Starting this movie, obviously, I was excited. I like found footage films—The Blair Witch Project, The Last Exorcism, etc.—and Area 51 has a read Cloverfield vibe. Especially because the three main characters attend a party in the beginning. What really struck me at first is that I know I guy who looks, sounds, and acts exactly like Ben, so that was fun. Found footage films also harken back to my YouTube roots; while the boys were driving to Nevada, I felt like I was watching a Shane Dawson vlog and I was absolutely loving it. There’s something about found footage that feels intimate, but it works well for the horror genre because of the snuff film element. If it’s done right, you can really feel like you’re watching someone’s last known footage.
“AREA 51, IT’S THE 51ST STATE”
I will admit there are a lot of details that are sort of heavily glossed over in the movie. For example, somehow three regular guys with no known connections got their hands on incredibly advanced equipment. I’m talking thermal detectors, various night vision things, body cameras. Maybe you can just go to the private investigator store and buy all this stuff, but it seems unlikely. Also: the freon suits. To bypass the thermal detectors at Area 51, the gang puts on, like, rubber suits and fills them with freon to disguise their heat signatures. It’s cool, but I don’t know if that’s a real thing that makes sense scientifically. None of these things are explained, which is probably why it only got two stars on Amazon.
Another complaint: I hate watching anything in night vision. Night vision sucks.
Once the gang actually starts infiltrating Area 51, my notes get crazy. This movie had my anxiety spiked so high I thought I was going to have a heart attack. It’s almost too real. It’s weird, nothing makes sense, and I kind of like it that way. Nothing made sense in Escape from Tomorrow and I hated that, but here we get hardly any answers and I dig it, to a certain degree.
The Area 51 set absolutely blew my mind. I read one review on Amazon where someone said the set was too good for this movie, that they wasted it making something so dumb. And, yeah, it’s kind of dumb, but if you ignore everything that sucks about it (which, honestly, isn’t that much), Area 51 is a found-footage masterpiece.
I don’t even want to spoil this one, because I want everyone to watch it. I will say, I hated the ending. It’s dumb and I felt let down after everything I went through with this movie. Which, I guess that’s a pretty big spoiler. But, besides that, I was so anxious I thought I was going to die. So, basically, it’s great. It feels very National Treasure, which I consider the highest compliment you could give a movie.
4. 10/4 – The Fog
I’ll be completely honest about this one: it’s watered-down old-school horror. Shot beautifully, written well, the pacing is impeccable; but it’s just not that scary. And somehow, I have four entire pages of notes dedicated to it.
SYNOPSIS AND STATS
The Fog, co-written and directed by John Carpenter in 1980, “tells the story of a strange, glowing fog that sweeps over a small coastal town in California.” Antonio Bay, on the eve of its 100th anniversary, is overtaken by paranormal activity at midnight. The activity brings with it a mysterious fog bank that slowly envelops the town over the following day.
Characters include Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) who picks up the hitchhiker.
Starting The Fog, I felt much like I did when starting Re-Animator: I Will Probably Like This. The short answer, I did like it. The long answer begins as so: Adrienne Barbeau has a blonde voice. She sounds like a sultry ‘80s blonde over the radio. Also, Jamie Lee Curtis has a much cuter haircut in this movie than she did in Halloween.
The Fog turns into Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest so quickly after that; ghost ship, undead sailors killing people…the similarities stop there, but that’s what came to me as soon as I saw the ghost ship. The Antonio Bay legend is well written, though. Spooky in a Goonies kind of way.
“MIDNIGHT TO ONE BELONGS TO THE DEAD”
A few observations: everyone wears plaid in this town. It has a good, wholesome Twin Peaks feel to it, but without the added bonus of feeling like you know the characters personally because you’ve been continuously watching them for ten episodes. At one point Jamie Lee Curtis grabs a to-go beer on her way out of the bar and I thought that was funny.
The weatherman gets killed while Adrienne is on the phone with him telling him to stay away from the fog; he insists it’s nothing, thinks it’s someone playing a prank when there’s an ominous knock on his door. He opens the door, he’s killed, and that’s what happens when you don’t listen to women.
This is a good one if you’re looking for something spooky, but you don’t necessarily want to be scared. It slows down a bit once you know the true legend; in the beginning, Father Malone finds his grandfather’s journal from 1880 chronicling the Antonio Bay origin story. He reads as far as what we already know, then stops, and the dark truth of the legend stays a secret until about the middle of the film. Once you know the reason why the six revenants (those guys on the ghost ship) are killing people, the movie gets kind of meh. If Father Malone revealed the Antonio Bay secret a little later, towards the end of the film, I believe it wouldn’t get as boring until the end.
Honestly, the weatherman was so forgettable I literally forgot he died. He was nice as a little love interest for Adrienne, but in the end, he was just a spare. Also, in the end, Nick stands up the in the rectory light like a medieval hero when he basically did nothing the entire movie.
As a closing thought, there’s a scene when Jamie Lee, Nick Castle, and Adrienne’s son Andy are trying to escape the revenants, and the truck (obviously) won’t start. Sweet, sweet Jamie Lee tries her hardest to get it going, but she’s just slamming her foot on the clutch and jerking the gear shift all over the place, literally grinding my gears. As a manual driver, I’d like to sue for emotional damages.
5. 10/5 – The Collector
I hate this movie so much I almost don’t want to talk about it. Maybe hate is too strong. I didn’t hate it, I just highly disliked it. Some of you are probably thinking, ‘hey dummy, this is the first actual horror movie on this whole list, why are you being this way?’ And I’ll tell you: it’s because of the pets.
SYNOPSIS AND STATS
Released in 2009, The Collector follows building contractor Arkin O’Brien as he breaks into his new employer’s isolated country house in an attempt to pay off his wife’s debts. Unbeknownst to Arkin, he’s walked right into another criminal’s home invasion/torture and murder spree and now must navigate a heavily rigged house to save the very family he planned to steal from.
Marcus Dunstan directed and co-wrote the film with Patrick Melton. The Collector features Josh Stewart as Arkin, Michael Reilly Burke as Michael Chase, Andrea Roth As Victoria Chase, Karley Scott Collins as Hanna Chase, Madeline Zima as Jill Chase, and Juan Fernandez as The Collector.
For some reason, I have vague memories of watching the sequel, The Collection, back when I lived in Orlando and my roommates and I would watch horror movies together after a spirited argument over who gets the good recliner. I remember absolutely nothing about that movie except the bodies-in-display-cases thing. I might have hated that one too, though I’m not sure.
But, it’s safe to say I was ready for something scary after the first few films; ready for an honest to god modern horror film. And I definitely kind of got it.
So, the opening credits: very 2009-style techno music, very American Horror Story-style flashing images. I actually couldn’t watch the credits after, like, three seconds because I almost got a headache. And then, panning over the house, I felt like I was watching an early ‘90s alternative rock music video. That should conjure a specific image in your head; if you’ve seen The Collector let me know if I’m making that garbage up.
A few thoughts pertaining to specific character introductions: when we first meet Hannah, the younger daughter, my immediate thought was—unfortunately—a Mean Girls-esque “Jojo Siwa, I love your work.” Because that girl looks like Jojo (actually I had to pause the movie and double check because I thought it was her).
When we first meet Jill, the older daughter, I thought she looked awfully familiar. I had to pause the movie and check on her also. Turns out it’s Madeline Zima, aka the youngest Sheffield kid on The Nanny. This was big news for me because I used to go hard on The Nanny when I was a kid. Also—I literally wrote this down on actual paper—whoever wrote this movie has never met a teenager since they were a teenager.
Also, Arkin has dead eyes that set him up for being The Collector but really that’s just what Josh Stewart’s face looks like.
IF ANYTHING HAPPENS TO THE CAT I’LL DIE
Let me get into why I hate this movie. You know, in any horror movie, if there’s a pet involved—even if it’s shown for only a split second—that pet is going to die. Three whole animals are killed in this movie for no other reason than for shock value. I mean, they don’t really die in real life, but the fact that I have to sit and watch a cat suffer in some sort of acid spread all over the floor, then escape only to be brutally cut in half is ridiculous.
I don’t know what it is, that seeing a mutilated corpse isn’t as devastating for me as seeing a dog with a burning trash can on its face get thrown at a dude. There must be something in my brain that goes “there’s no way they’d actually kill a person in a movie, that’s definitely fake, but there’s a chance they actually killed that cat” and it seems too real for me.
A few collected (lol) notes: the Collector’s shiny eyes were disgusting. They freaked me out, but the more I looked at them the more they made me think of a very specific image of Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys.
I thought it was totally unnecessary for Arkin to say “faggot” so many times. Very on brand for 2009, but jarring; I personally haven’t heard anyone say that word in years, and I kind of forgot it was something middle schoolers used to say, like, a lot.
The cop responding to a possible emergency with no backup? I’m sorry, that is not correct.
At the very end my overwhelming emotions were just this: “Disappointing in exactly the way it was intended. I was so hopeful and now I want to kill myself.”
I have a note here that says, “this is fucked who wrote this”. And that pretty much sums up my feelings about The Collector.
We discuss The Strangers, The Evil Within, The Hills Have Eyes, Lords of Salem, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and why exactly I’m choosing to watch so many Rob Zombie films on this project when I’ve never been able to get through The Devil’s Rejects.
Project updates and sneaky peeks will be posted on Twitter.