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Ahh…October. Changing leaves…a crisp chill in the air…a final farewell to the last, bright vestiges of Summer before Winter takes its hold…October can mean a lot of things to a lot of people but, around here, we hold it sacred for a very particular reason: Halloween. At the VHS Graveyard, we like to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve for an entire month: how, exactly, could you cram all that goodness into one mere night?

In previous years, I attempted to screen a combination of new films and older favorites but this year is a little different. The VHS Graveyard is attempting to see every single horror film released in 2016 so, that end, the focus has been almost exclusively on new, previously unseen films. There are still a few classics sprinkled in, of course, and a few newer films pre-2016. Other than that, however, consider this a preview of our overall look at horror in 2016.

We’ll begin this year’s coverage with the first week of viewings: Saturday, the 1st, to Friday, the 7th. The first week was a little light but things picked up considerably after that. With no further ado, let’s get started, shall we?

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3: All Hallows Eve

Micro-budget indie anthology film (three stories and a wraparound) that can be extremely rough going, at times (we’ll call most of the performances “enthusiastic” and leave it at that), but still manages to be a lot of fun. There were no surprising twists, the FX and production values were strictly home-grown and I’m not sure that much of it could be considered “scary,” per se. That being said, there was an inherent style to the second and third segments that was undeniably eerie, despite the limitations, and I had a huge kick out of seeing an actor I actually worked with in the production (Christopher Labadie, who ended up giving the film’s best performance in the Christine-inspired third segment). Film’s like this are the reason I’ll always give a chance to indie horror films, despite initial misgivings.

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Extraordinary Tales

Mostly amazing animated collection of Edgar Allen Poe stories that’s connected by a thoroughly tedious, obnoxious wraparound story where Poe’s dead soul is a raven having a dumb philosophical conversation with Death in a graveyard. There are some ridiculous goodies to be found here, however, with each story getting a different animation style and atmosphere: The Fall of the House of Usher gets Christopher Lee as a narrator and a cool, pseudo-woodcut style; The Telltale Heart features supremely kickass rotoscope black-and-white and a scratchy, really-old recorded narrative by Bela Lugosi (!!); The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is an old EC comic come to life and is, if you’ll pardon my language, impossibly fucking cool…really…it fucking rips; The Pit and the Pendulum gets Guillermo del Toro for a narrator (!) but is otherwise strictly by the numbers and disappointing; The Masque of the Red Death closes the proceedings with a simply stunning watercolor style and one of the coolest, most evocative versions of the tale I’ve ever seen on screen. For fans of Poe and animation, this is pretty much a must-see, stupid wraparound be damned.

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The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist

Call me a “genre snob” all you want but I won’t sugar-coat things: I did not care for this sequel to the mega-popular James Wan original (which I did enjoy, to be honest). Despite being exceptionally well-made (parts of the film really do look gorgeous and some of the effects scenes are superbly executed) and featuring a few real chills, this next chapter in the saga of Ed and Lorraine Warren is mostly flat, telegraphed, rather hysterical (it’s impossible to take some of the “tense” scenes seriously) and ridiculously overlong (the entire Amityville opening is a stupid pretension that adds nothing but running time to the film). The whole thing is rather dunderheaded, at the end of the day, symbolized by an over-reliance on the film’s “Manson Nun” demon that borders on a Family Guy skit. This really is big-budget, multiplex horror at its bloated worst.

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Bleed

This indie about a group of ghost hunters checking out a supposedly haunted, fire-gutted prison certainly wasn’t terrible: the film looked pretty, considering the budget, and the prison location proved endlessly creepy and atmospheric. It was confusing, however, full of so many disparate plot elements and genre tropes (justice-seeking ghosts, crazy cultists, baby sacrifice, serial killers, ghost hunters) that the whole thing tended to collapse in on itself like a wet tissue. It was going to be hard for me to hate any film that features former Jesus Lizard singer David Yow as a fire-scarred, nutbag deputy sheriff, however, so this was always going to have a leg up on the competition: that Yow is simply magnificent makes it all that much more satisfying.

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The Mind’s Eye

As a big fan of genre wunderkind Joe Begos, I was really looking forward to his homage to Cronenberg’s Scanners and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Gloriously ’80s-centric and just about as “authentic” as these types of modern films get (right down to the broad acting and ridiculous set-pieces), this tale of a pair of vein-popping telekinetics on the run from shadowy government baddies really isn’t that different from Scanners but is never less than full-throttle fun. The practical effects are pretty impressive, lending the whole thing the feel of something that a much younger me might have grabbed off a video store shelf on a lazy Saturday. Films like this really light a fire under the ol’ VHS Graveyard!

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Goosebumps

As a kid, I voraciously devoured any and all Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz and Dan Simmons books that I could find. Young-adult superstar R.L. Stine was a bit after my formative young years, however, so I must admit almost complete ignorance regarding his exceptionally large back catalog. I must also admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that I do not really care for Jack Black, finding him to be way too manic and obnixous for my taste. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this mega-budget, CGI-bloated, Jack Black-starring big-screen introduction of many of Stine’s most famous creations to the silver screen. A clever bit of meta-fiction involving nosy kids accidentally releasing Stine’s (nicely underplayed by Black, for a change) literary creations into the real world, where they wreck havoc under the evil eye of living dummy Slappy (also Black and much less restrained), this was full of fun setpieces and nicely realized (for the most part) monsters. Sure, it was silly, manic and distinctly aimed at a young audience. If you’re the kind of horror fan who has no room at your table for something light-hearted and bloodless, however, expect to be turned away from my buffet: The VHS Graveyard welcomes any and all with open arms.

Coming up: Week Two and the next fifteen films in this year’s 31 Days of Halloween. Until then…keep it scary, boos and ghouls…keep it scary!

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