My Halloween 2020 Movie Marathon: Week 1 (9/20–9/26)
I finally watched Nosferatu, Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and many more.
This is my diary for my 2020 Halloween Horror Movie Marathon. It will be a six week long journey where I squeeze in movies anytime I can. I want to spend this time watching movies I feel like, as a self-proclaimed horror movie buff, I should have seen by now — like Frankenstein, The Shining, Hereditary, and many others. I am calling the marathon “Season of the Witch” after Halloween III, the only film in that franchise I have missed. This is a time for me to fill in the gaps in my horror knowledge .I will keep my thoughts on each film brief as there will be quite a few per week. Thank you for joining me on this spooky, seasonal journey.
#1: Frankenstein (1931)
Dr Henry Frankenstein is obsessed with assembling a living being from parts of several exhumed corpses.
I wanted to include at least one Universal Monster along the way and I thought that this one would be the perfect way to start the marathon. It was! The film starts with a prologue (mainly for showmanship, but with a dash of earnestness) which says, “It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation: life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you. So, if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to uh, well, — we warned you!” This was such a great prologue to this whole adventure.
Frankenstein was everything I wanted it to be: atmospheric, creepy, and monumentally spooky. I knew I would like it — and I did!
#2: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
A scientific expedition searching for fossils along the Amazon River discover a prehistoric Gill-Man in the legendary Black Lagoon. The explorers capture the mysterious creature, but it breaks free. The Gill-Man returns to kidnap the lovely Kay, fiancée of one of the expedition, with whom it has fallen in love.
Creature was another Universal Monster I had missed. At least with Frankenstein, I had read the original novel and the character appears just about everywhere during the spooky season. Gill-Man doesn’t get the same love as the others, but I think he deserves it! He’s very creepy and I could see being totally repulsed by him in the 50s.
I was a tad worried I would be bored by this, but how could you possibly be bored? This has some really great suspenseful moments. And the music really heightens the whole thing. My favorite movie of the marathon so far.
#3: Revenge of the Creature (1955)
Men from an oceanarium capture the Creature from the Black Lagoon and make him an aquarium attraction, from which he escapes.
Creature from the Black Lagoon holds up very well almost 70 years later. Its sequel, however, does not. This follow-up is an unfortunate rehash of the original, complete with significantly less suspense and a fraction of the charm. And although I really liked the music in the first one, it got really old after 3 hours of watching them back-to-back.
#4: Back to the Black Lagoon: A Creature Chronicle (2000)
Documentary about the making of and legacy of The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Remember back in the day on A&E, when they would show this type of 90s/00s classic film retrospective documentary? They are so nostalgic for me. It’s so comfortable now how they all feel similar with their interchangeable narrators and quick anecdotes — and they’re always good for “That’s what they look like now? Yikes.”
This was a really solid one commemorating a great flick.
#5: Universal Horror (1998)
A documentary about the era of classic monster movies that were made at Universal Studios during the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Another solid retrospective from the 90s. A little disjointed, but still fun. And this one is narrated by Kenneth Branagh, so that added a little extra spice.
#6: The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster (1999)
The history of Frankenstein’s journey from novel to stage to screen to icon.
Yes, I watched a third behind-the-scenes retrospective in a row. I really love them. There was some contradicting info between this and the last one and that was really interesting to see.
#7: Nosferatu (1922)
Vampire Count Orlok is interested in a new residence and in his real estate agent’s young wife. F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
I appreciate this as mandatory viewing for any horror fan. And it’s got some really fun imagery.
But come on, it’s boring. I probably need more experience with silent films before committing to one this long. But I really chose this because I felt I needed to see it before I watched…
#8: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Director F.W. Murnau makes a Faustian pact with a vampire to get him to star in his 1922 film “Nosferatu.”
This fictional behind-the-scenes of Nosferatu is the stronger of the two for me and a total diamond in the rough complete with an over-the-top John Malkovich, a dash of Eddie Izzard, and actual vampire Willem Dafoe.
This one is way too overlooked.
#9: Baghead (2008)
Four actors go to a cabin in the woods to write, direct, and act in a film that will jump-start their careers. Their idea is a horror film about a man with a bag over his head, but what happens when that man mysteriously shows up?
Another one where I should have been more experienced with the genre before jumping in, I think. Without any experience with Mumblecore, maybe I shouldn’t have tried Mumblegore. Definitely could see the audience here, but it isn’t for me.
#10: Black Sabbath (1963)
Three short tales of supernatural horror.
My first Mario Bava film and I’m sorry but what a bore. I mainly watched this for Boris Karloff and although he’s got a great track in this, his story drags on and on. And of course, it’s the longest of the bunch.
An anthology of three short stories, my personal favorite, the opener The Telephone, had me completely. It’s also the only one I liked, unfortunately. The “killer on the phone” is such a common trope now, but this clearly invented it.
Points for that tale, fun imagery, and the stories it inspired. But that’s it.
#11: Hour of the Wolf (1968)
An artist in crisis is haunted by nightmares from the past in Ingmar Bergman’s only horror film, which takes place on a windy island. During “the hour of the wolf” — between midnight and dawn — he tells his wife about his most painful memories.
This is my second of Bergman’s films and I just don’t have any connection with his work so far. Perhaps I’m expecting too much due to his reputation.
This was my third letdown and I was starting to lose steam. Can’t be disinterested so early! Surely I would like the next film, one I’ve been wanting to watch for years…
#12: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
During an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia SWAT team members, a traffic reporter, and his television-executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall.
And…I didn’t like it.
Loved the DIY feel. Hated the characters, which makes it hard to care. Another I admire more than I enjoy.
#13: Halloweentown (1998)
On her 13th birthday, Marnie learns she’s a witch, discovers a secret portal, and is transported to Halloweentown — a magical place where ghosts and ghouls, witches and werewolves live apart from the human world. But she soon finds herself battling wicked warlocks, evil curses, and endless surprises.
Turns out, I was more of a Halloweentown High kid myself…
This movie accomplishes exactly what it wants to and you have to appreciate it for that. And it’s one of the more palatable Disney Channel Original Movies. A solid choice for the whole family!
#14: Intruders (2015)
Anna suffers from agoraphobia so crippling that when a trio of criminals break into her house, she cannot bring herself to flee. But what the intruders don’t realize is that agoraphobia is not her only psychosis.
I love me some home invasion horror. And I’m always down for a refreshing reason why the victim can’t leave the house — in this case, her anxiety disorder, which I think is handled as well as a low-budget horror flick can handle it.
This one has a few things going for it. It’s got some fun uses of blood. An intersting role reversal. And you have to respect how much they cram into 90 minutes. But it tries too hard with the twists and turns, which sadly makes it feels desperate. A mixed bag, but a solid attempt.
#15: The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)
Luther Heggs aspires to being a reporter for his small town newspaper. He gets his big break when the editor asks him to spend the night at the Simmons mansion that, 20 years before, was the site of a now famous murder-suicide.
Nobody does it like Don Knotts! Plain and simple. I grew up watching him on The Andy Griffith Show and in this movie. I loved revisiting this and I’m so glad it held up. I wish he was remembered more for the great work he did.
#16: Multiple Maniacs (1970)
Lady Divine becomes enraged when her boyfriend cheats on her, and descends into a life of murder and mayhem.
Do I like watching John Waters movies because I live in Baltimore? Yes.
Do I like watching them for any other reason?
Do I have to answer that question?
#17: Halloween Is Grinch Night (1977)
When the sour-sweet wind starts blowing again, the Whos retreat to their homes because they know the Grinch will soon be a’prowlin.
Very flat and uninspired. Did the people that made this low-budget television prequel have any familiarity with the source material — either the book or the original special?
At least it’s short. And it has some really crazy as hell moments.
#18: The House That Jack Built (2018)
Failed architect, engineer and vicious murderer Jack narrates the details of some of his most elaborately orchestrated crimes, each of them a towering piece of art that defines his life’s work as a serial killer for twelve years.
The week ended with the most conflicting opinions I have on any of the films.
I have a hard time taking Matt Dillion seriously. Maybe it’s because my introduction to him was Herbie Fully Loaded. He does, however, give a strong performance here.
There are a lot of big ideas in this movie. They’re presented in a fresh and interesting fashion, but it’s so overstuffed with those ideas that it begins to feel bloated. Just one strong thesis presented this way could have gone a long way. I can’t speak to the themes many claim to be a metaphor of von Trier’s work and life as this is my first of his movies.
The murder scenes are really the star here and help mitigate the thematic issues. They are creatively horrifying and do a really good job at building tension.
If you are interested in following along with my marathon in real time or if you are interested in seeing my rankings of the films so far, you can follow my list on Letterboxd:
Ranked: "Season of the Witch" - Halloween 2020 Marathon
A list of 19 films compiled on Letterboxd, including Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Frankenstein (1931), The…boxd.it
Stats for Week 1: Films Watched: 18, Minutes Watched: 1,530 (25.5 hours) Most Watched Decade: tie with 3 each — 1960s, 1970s, 1990s, 2000s Favorite Film: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Worst Film: Black Sabbath (1963)
Stats for Marathon: Films Watched: 18, Minutes Watched: 1,530 (25.5 hours) Most Watched Decade: tie with 3 each — 1960s, 1970s, 1990s, 2000s Favorite Film: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Worst Film: Black Sabbath (1963)
What’s Coming Up Next Week? The Shining, Sleepy Hollow, Funny Games (1997), and many more.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.