So this year I decided to do the whole watching horror movies all October thing. I mainly ended up alternating between the Halloween series and new releases. Here are short takes on a few of the newer movies I didn’t get around to writing full reviews of.
‘Tales of Halloween’
I find it very difficult to review anthology movies in general, partly because I’m always tempted to just go through and address each segment one by one. It’s tough to judge them as a whole because you’ll always end up come to the same assessment; it’s uneven, some are better than others. Oh well, it’s to be expected. Tales of Halloween is a new horror anthology collection that certainly fits that description. It features shorts that all take place in one town around a single Halloween night but are barely connected to one-another. There are a few well-known genre directors in the mix (Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Darren Lynn Bousman) along with a few names that were new to me. Confusingly, it credits all of them at the start so you’ll have to look online after the fact to see who made what. Tales of Halloween gains some advantage in the anthology stakes by the fact that every segment (there are 10 in total) is very short, so none of them really waste any time in getting to their gimmick. Naturally, there are some weak ones in there but none stick around long enough to ever become a real toll. In general they go for a more comedic approach and the film maintains a balanced tonal consistency. While often fun, these are mostly throwaway quickies though.
‘Pay the Ghost’
Imagine my delight when looking for some new horror movies to watch at home this month to discover that none-other than Nicolas Cage had a new film out that matched that description. Pay the Ghost does not find Cage in over-the-top hysterical mode though, instead he’s in more of a sombre mood. Cage plays an English professor who’s seen discussing old horror literature when we meet him. His son strangely disappears during a Halloween parade and a year later is still missing when Cage thinks he catches sight of him, leading to a mysterious plot involving multiple missing children. Director Uli Edel, (whose eclectic filmography includes Last Exit to Brooklyn, Body of Evidence and The Baader Meinhof Complex) creates a tone much more akin to a middle-of-the-road drama about the subject than a horror movie, sufficiently so that the appearance of supernatural elements might surprise someone who stumbled upon this movie unaware on TV some time. It’s mostly just rather dull though, not another embarrassment for Cage but yet one more completely forgettable and insubstantial movie.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper had retired some time ago. He does still occasionally work but it tends to be on lower profile stuff like Djinn, which limped unceremoniously onto VOD recently a full two years after its festival premier. I haven’t seen anything Hooper’s made since the eighties but Djinn gained my interest partly by reportedly being the first horror movie to come out of the UAE, but mainly because it appeared to be a religiously-themed horror that drew from Islam rather than Catholicism, which could lead to some originality. In reality, that’s only superficially true, it does feature djinn, but they might as well be any old ghosts. The story features an expat couple (who constantly switch between English and Arabic in a rather confusing way) who return to the UAE after some time abroad to find some kind of supernatural haunting going on in their fog-strewn new building. Aside from its setting, there is nothing notable about Djinn in the slightest. Honestly you’d never know that this awful film was coming from someone with two genre classics to their name, as if I didn’t know better I’d guess this was coming from a first-time director. There’s not a single scare to be found.
Continuing his admirable commitment to genre cinema, Elijah Wood stars in Cooties as a substitute teacher who returns to his old elementary school one day only to have one of the kids in his class bite another’s face. This kicks off a viral outbreak that turns the kids into zombie-like creatures taking over the school while their teachers must try to survive and escape. They’re played by a bunch of recognizable faces including Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer, Allison Pill and writer Leigh Whannell (who reveals some comedic chops), all of whom seem to be having a blast. It’s a pretty darn good set-up for a horror comedy and Cooties gets a lot of humour out of its school setting before the outbreak even occurs. Once it does, it’s quite hilarious to see that even though the zombies are all children, the film doesn’t hold back on the comically excessive gore effects. There are a number of jokes that don’t land, but Cooties keeps them coming at a rapid enough rate that far more hit than miss. A great deal of fun and packed full of laughs, Cooties is an energetic zombie comedy that should please most horror fans, especially ones who’ve ever worked as teachers.