Halloween Countdown : Monster House

Let's not forget the kiddies in the build-up to Halloween - after all, they'll be out foraging sweets for you on the streets tomorrow night. Here's one for all the family.

Monster House (Gil Kenan, 2006) is a thoroughly entertaining throwback to 80s suburban-based fare such as Gremlins and The 'burbs.12-year-old DJ is obssessed with spying on his neighbour, a cranky old man who confiscates any toys landing in his garden. After he accidentally hospitalises the old man, his house starts acting strangely, leading DJ and his friends to suspect it is actually haunted. Of course, no one will believe them, so as Halloween approaches they must face its terrors themselves. It's great fun. The script is funny, featuring several laugh-out-loud jokes ('Oh, so it's a girl house'), the animation is inventive, the characters endearing and there's some nice creepy moments as well. Not just a very good animated film, but a very good horror-comedy, full stop.

A full list of films in the Halloween Countdown 2016 is here

Halloween Countdown : Lesson of the Evil

No horror movie marathon is complete without some Extreme Exploitation Horror from the Asian market. Enter controversial director Takashi Miike, who has good offensive form in this area....

As deliberately provocative as it is, Lesson of the Evil (Takashi Miike, 2012) is clearly not meant to be taken seriously, but it's not exactly much fun to watch either. Mr Hasumi (Hideaki Itō) is a respected, popular teacher except - UH-OH! - he is in fact a raving lunatic with homicidal tendencies. These come to the fore when he decides to punish his students for bullying, cheating and general bad behaviour in a murderous, gun-toting rampage through the school. It's like Battle Royale meets American Psycho, but unfortunately it lacks the satirical dark humour of either of those films, which renders the violence here rather tasteless and pointless. Nor is it tense enough to work as a straightforward serial-killer thriller - Hasumi is not compelling or complex enough to work as an anti-hero. As the violence escalates, Miike's prowess in staging bloody action is certainly not in doubt, but watching student after student get blown away is all rather dull and repetitive. (Although some teachers might find this very agreeable wish-fulfilment. If so, get some therapy). It's also rather overlong and finishes on a sort of cliffhanger, but I've learned my lesson and won't be returning after the dinner-break for more.

A full list of films in the Halloween Countdown 2016 is here

Halloween Countdown : Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro, 2015) is a mess of a film. A sumptuous looking mess, admittedly, but a mess nonetheless. It's a pity because it's a while since we've seen this type of old-fashioned Gothic horror melodrama, but despite the quality in front of and behind the camera, it ultimately fails to make us scare or care. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is a young American who is romanced by dashing, brooding Englishman Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who promptly whisks her off to his gloomy (and frankly shit) mansion back in England. But Sharpe's frosty (and clearly deranged) sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) is not best pleased about Edith moving into the family home. Sinister events ensue. WoooooOOOOooo!! There's a clear influence from classic melodramas Rebecca and Jane Eyre here, both in the story and in the handsomely mounted set design. But it lacks the classy restraint of those books/films, opting for CGI and lurid blood-soaked scenes which are rather overblown, verging on silly at times. There's no doubting del Toro's eye for a shot or his ability to translate onto the screen a wonderful shot from the one fashioned in his imagination, but then again some things are better left to the imagination.

A full list of films in the Halloween Countdown 2016 is here

Halloween Countdown : Lights Out

Another recent and wildly successful horror release, raking in almost $150million at the box-office from a lowly $5million budget. But does a healthy return mean it's actually any good?

Lights Out (David Sandberg, 2016) has a nifty premise: the malevolent entity menacing a family can only be seen, and can only hurt them, when the lights are out. So you would just keep the lights on, right? Well, not if you exist in a horror film. Hands up if you think there's likely to be a power cut? Or a faulty torch? Or people peering into dark shadows when they should really be GETTING THE FUCK OUTTA THERE!!!?? Yes, this is heavily reliant on using dimly-lit scenarios to generate its jump-scares, but these shocks are all expertly delivered - one in particular caught me massively unawares. So it's pretty good fun when it's trying to make us jump. It is less successful when it's trying to make us care, though, with some clumsy moments of exposition, as it throws light on the back-story of the characters. It means there's not much emotional connection to the characters compared to those in the superficially similar, but much superior The Babadook from a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, at only 82 mins this won't run down your batteries and may just be the perfect excuse to get your loved one clinging to you in the dark shadows. But if that's still too long for you, why not try the 2min short film (also called Lights Out) which got Sandberg his big break after it went viral online. Watch it below.

A full list of films in the Halloween Countdown 2016 is here

Halloween Countdown: Don't Breathe

We continue our countdown to Halloween 2016 with a recent box-office hit - is it as good, or as scary, as they say?

Don't Breathe (Fede Alvarez, 2016) is about three small-time burglars who target the house of a blind man who has apparently a large stash of cash hidden away. But - UH OH! - the man may be blind, but is also a psychopathic army veteran who isn't going to let his disability stop him fighting back. It's a good set-up that reminded me a little of the recent Hush, which had a deaf protagonist using her other senses to compensate. And for the most part it's a similarly snappy, functional home invasion thriller, with jump-scares, tense situations and a smattering of gory moments all competently and enjoyably delivered. But towards the end it strays into somewhat dodgy territory with a rape-but-not-rape-but-actually-it-is development. Presumably this was an attempt to fashion a 'shock' talking-point that would set itself apart from the crowd, but it only ends up leaving a nasty taste in the mouth. Ched Evans' defence team would probably love it.

A full list of films in the Halloween Countdown 2016 is here