Halloween Every Day (for a Month)
By Andrew Neil Cole
Like a lot of cinephiles, I believe that Halloween is less about trick-or-treating, costumes, candy, and parties than it is about reclaiming a small piece of yesteryear through watching (or more likely re-watching) our favorite horror movies. In fact, Halloween is, for horror fans, much more than one single day denoted by a grinning jack-o’-lantern in the final calendar square for the month of October. No, Halloween begins on the first day of October and doesn’t end until the sun rises on the first day of November. That gives us 31 glorious days to bask in the warm, nostalgic glow that can only be created (or recreated) by our favorite cinematic boogeymen. After all, what better way to feel like a kid again then to relive what it felt like the first time you saw a movie that made you sleep with the lights on and the covers pulled tightly over your head?
So, in the true spirit of Halloween (as defined by us movie fans), I, your Humble Heckler, have decided to take on a challenge: I will watch one horror movie every day throughout the month of October and faithfully record my experiences here. The idea to do this comes from an assignment I was once given as a film student in college. A professor I greatly respected required his students to watch two films a week and simply respond to them in a diary of sorts. What did we like about each film? What didn’t we like? Did a certain film remind us of other films? If so, how? He was looking for gut reactions—but informed, well-considered gut reactions. The assignment forced me to get out of my head, set all academic pretense aside, and simply let a movie happen to me. As a result, I found greatness in movies that had been written off by the critical community, and I found that I didn’t particularly care for certain films and filmmakers that had been universally adored. It was a great lesson. Therefore, the movies I choose to view will not necessarily be my favorites. My goal will not be to watch specific horror movies but to have a larger, more complete experience with the horror genre as a whole by watching a lot of movies in a relatively short period of time. I will not be making a “best of” list, nor will I be assigning films a rank or a grade of any kind. I’ll do my best to select a wide variety of horror types and classifications. I’ll also do my best to select movies from different eras and to avoid choosing too many obvious titles—there will be no Friday the 13th movies, no Scream movies, no Saw movies, and no sequels of any kind. What follows will not be a series of reviews but rather a collection of subject-specific responses, reflections, and musings.
Enough said. Let’s get started!
Day 1: The Cabin in the Woods (2012).
In the years following John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween, the horror genre took a turn for the worse. In fact, it can be argued that Halloween represents the genre’s definitive line of demarcation, in that virtually every horror film since 1978 has an appreciable pre-Halloween or post-Halloween feel to it. After Carpenter proved that a low-budget slasher flick could make untold millions for its producers, businessmen with absolutely no interest in film, let alone horror, saw an opportunity to cash in and pounced like carrion birds on a fresh carcass. To this assemblage of heartless capitalists, an investment of a few hundred thousand could mean tens of millions in profit, and soon the market was flooded with Halloween wannabes. Every weekend a new masked assailant stalked a collection of sexually promiscuous teens at a theater near you. Interesting, fleshed-out characters and strong, driving suspense narratives were instantly jettisoned and replaced by archetypal caricatures heedlessly meandering through a loose collection of slaughter scenarios. The horror genre would never be the same.
With The Cabin in the Woods, director Drew Goddard and co-writer/producer Joss Whedon seem to be pointing an accusatory finger directly at the kind of filmmaking that occurred on the post-Halloween side of that line of demarcation. Genre conventions are both openly mocked yet necessary to the film’s overall structure. Torture porn and the excessive use of graphic violence as entertainment in horror cinema are clearly criticized while the film dumps buckets of blood and goo on everyone and everything in sight. Characters are written to satirize the preordained fates of modern horror film caricatures (the dumb blonde, the jock, the virgin, etc …), and yet, in the end, these characters live and/or die by the same rules as the lazy, clichéd, cardboard characters they were created to lampoon—and all of this is intentional. It is also a lot of fun. I’m glad I decided to begin this month-long exploration of the horror genre with a movie that is clearly conducting an exploration of its own.