The 9th year of 31 Days of Horror has come to a close, and as we look forward to the holiday season, the tentpoles to close out the year and the influx of awards season fodder, we must take a moment to look back at this year’s 31 Days to the added bonus installment, my 5 picks from the last 31 Days, my Top 5 from the pack, my FINAL GIRLS of 2022!
5. Black Roses
I was hesitant to watch Black Roses. For all the rock-n-roll horror I’ve seen, very little of it has worked as well as I’d hoped. Black Roses, however, won me over with its practical effects and well-crafted production. The music seemed authentic, the narrative was exciting and all-around entertaining, and it left me wanting more. A movie that ends up being style over substance works well when the style is this strong, and I bought into it. Sure, there are some unnecessary sequences, like a faceless woman caressing her breasts for 2 minutes straight without progressing any semblance of plot, and a subplot involving a potential romance between the lead teacher and a student (it doesn’t go anywhere, but it also doesn’t really add anything of value to our lead character). With all that, though, Black Roses was immensely fun, full of cheese, and exactly what I needed.
A loving homage to the films of William Castle, the ultimate horror salesman and king of the gimmick, Popcorn is a horror fan’s horror movie. A slasher set during an all-night horror marathon at a rundown movie theater, Popcorn has an almost anthological appeal in that it features a number of fake movies playing the theater while the real movie is playing for us viewers. It’s got a mostly appealing cast of young fodder and legends of the craft, and a style that creates a lot of pop in the set design and cinematography. It’s a shame that this one is so hard to find in the streaming landscape (I caught it on Shudder, though who knows how long it’ll stay there), because I really feel like this one more wide appeal than expected for horror fans.
Tobe Hooper is a visionary director, but I’ve always been a bit critical about some of his popular works. Lifeforce, his science fiction epic, is pretty damn incredible. I was in love with the stylistic choices he makes her, adapting the novel The Space Vampires, he creates an entirely new monster mythology and imbues it with familiar language and ideas. He also called the film his Hammer Horror, making his movie in the style of the popular horror studio, and it shows. Lifeforce ends up being one the most unique films in his catalog, and the finished product is an excellent showcase for his skills.
2. Jacob’s Ladder
I’ve consistently seen Jacob’s Ladder in the conversation for one of the best horror films of all time, and while it exists in this multigenre landscape, it’s an incredible feat in confusion. I’ve seen it twice, the second time working almost as good as the first, Adrian Lyne knows exactly how long to keep the narrative moving forward before tossing another wrench into the story and twisting it into a different direction. There were several times that I had this movie figured out and then almost immediately had my expectations upheaved by a new story elements that changed my perspective, and the way this one ended, even though it performs one of my least-favorite types of plot reveals, it does so better than any other film could have. Ultimately, this is an emotional film, it breaks my heart to watch it unfold, and yet it’s a tragically depressing story of hope, not an easy feat to master.
Now, it almost had to be Hellraiser, but I stand by the choice. Pinhead’s franchise may not be on the pop cultural level of Freddy, Jason, or Michael, but I would argue that the original film, directed by first-time director Clive Barker (and based on his novella The Hellbound Heart), is one of the absolute best singular horror stories that the genre has to offer. What’s so astounding is that, while the Cenobites are certainly a horrifying concept, the movie isn’t really about them. I would argue that the narrative could just be about the human characters, Frank, Kirsty, Julia, and Larry. There’s a compelling dramatic and horror take on the material right there. The Cenobites are the icing on the cake here, and they elevate the entire narrative. Hellraiser is a great start to the franchise that significantly dropped off after the fourth installment.
There you have it. The 5 best films from this installment of 31 Days of Horror. What are the best movies you watched this Halloween season? Let me know in the comments!
-Kyle A. Goethe