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As we near the end of this glorious month, I now present you with the eight films screened during the 4th Week of October: this features some of the most extreme highs and lows of the year, so enjoy the roller-coaster. After this, we only have the 30th and 31st before we can close out this year’s festivities. Fire up your Dragula and feast those blood-shot windows to the soul on the list below.

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Within

Another well-made but thoroughly pedestrian and obvious haunted house film, this one is saved a bit by an absolutely batshit, brutal finale that comes out of left field. A newlywed couple and the husband’s sassy teen daughter move into a house with a bad reputation and run into lots of scary bumps in the night. If the house doesn’t get them, maybe it’ll be the pervy next-doot-neighbor, who also happens to be the neighborhood locksmith: gotta love a creep with a strategy! Well-made and acted but absolutely everything up until the last 20 minutes or so feels about as old as Stonehenge.

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8989 Redstone

The hot-headed, casually racist host of a home renovation show and his obnoxious daughter have a new project, deep in the decaying heart of Detroit’s worst neighborhood. Turns out the house may be a bigger threat than the area, however, as weird things begin to happen and various workers suffer injuries ranging from bad to worse. When Rebecca begins to see visions of the house’s original owner and architect, her dad has to determine whether this is a recurrence of a previous mental breakdown or something much darker and more insidious. Despite a cheap look, an occasionally silly script and some strictly amateur acting, this actually had ideas and imagination to spare (the central concept seems to exist in the same wheelhouse as The Dark Tower and House of Leaves, which is pretty fuckin’ rad, if ya ask me) and the chaotic finale hits Fulciesque levels of insanity that were only hinted at earlier. Yeah, the ultimate resolution is a bit muddled (if I’m reading it right) but it’s a bumpy ride with some undeniably cool moments.

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Evil Souls

Incredibly sleazy, often unpleasant and throughly gonzo throwback to old-school Italian horror maestros like Fulci and Soavi, Maurizio and Roberto del Piccolo’s Evil Souls definitely won’t be for everyone but it sure as hell got me nostalgic for those old grindhouse days. An insane madman named Valentine (the all-the-way-in Peter Gosgrove, doing frighteningly good work) kidnaps two women and holds them captive in his dungeon. He’s an eloquent sociopath who dresses like a turn-of-the-century gentleman and thinks he’s the Marquis de Sade. He also has some kind of a larger plan, one that involves his drug-addicted, insane prostitute sister (he’s also her pimp) and his childhood best friend, who’s now the local priest. Did I mention that his plan also seems to involve the kidnapped women’s sons and, possibly, something occult? Because it does. Or seems to.

To be honest, it’s a little hard to tell: like the best Italian horror films, this exists on pure nightmare logic, right up to the thoroughly head-scratching finale. Like the best, old-school Italian horror films, Evil Souls works splendidly despite (or even because of) its handicaps and shortcomings: it’s a film that commits to a central tone and runs with it fearlessly. Even when the film doesn’t work (which is often) or becomes almost unbearable nasty (there’s quite a bit of graphic torture and realistic practical effects), it still manages to show a rare level of restraint that keeps it from pitching wholesale into trash cinema: it just toes the art-house line, if barely. Individual results may vary but for someone who grew up on a steady diet of Italian VHS fare, this one felt right at home.

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The Funhouse Massacre

Arthouse, slow-burn horror will always be my personal favorite but, sometimes, you really just need a good, old-fashioned blood-n-guts slasher: with that in mind, Andy Palmer’s The Funhouse Massacre was just the film that I needed this October. This endlessly inventive, genuinely cool, outrageously gory little jewel is an obvious love-letter to horror, in all its era, and that’s something that’s always gonna hit me hard. The plot is simple: a collection of nefarious serial killers are sprung from the local maximum security nut-hatch (think Arkham Asylum but with mild-mannered Robert Englund as warden) and take up residence in the local haunted house attraction, an attraction which happens to feature individual exhibits based on the killers’ exploits. The real killers move into the attractions, people really start dying in the middle of a crowded carnival and the whole thing builds to a truly insane Grand Guignol finale on the terror-stricken midway.

I dearly loved everything about this film, even when it veered hard into the cheese (the obvious Harley Quinn substitute was pretty silly, in a cosplay kinda way). The references to other horror characters and franchises could be really clever (the cannibal chef was named Ramsey, ala Blood Feast and Rocco the Clown was an obvious Leatherface stand-in) and the high-energy, good-humored and gory proceedings reminded me of nothing less than Waxwork, one of my all-time favorites from any era. The Funhouse Massacre is an ideal group or party, fill of quotable lines and plenty of genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Easily one of my favorites of the year and sure to be a seasonal rotation, in the future.

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Dead 7

The cast list on this one should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect: Backstreet Boys Nick Carter, Howie Dorough and AJ McClean; NSYNC’s Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick; 98 Degrees founder Jeff Timmons; O-Town members Erik Michael Estrada, Jacob Underwood and Trevor Penick; TV host Carrie Keagan; Jon Secada; Everclear’s Art Alexakis. Behind the scenes, we get SyFy in the producer’s chair and Nick Carter with a screenplay credit. Plotwise, it’s a “comedic” zombie-Western take on The Magnificent Seven, featuring the boy band members in all the pivotal roles, both good guys and bad.

As someone who avoids purposefully campy and stupid films like the plague, I can only give my personal, unbiased opinion: Dead 7 was, without a doubt, the absolute nadir of a year that has seen plenty of stinky cheese. I stretch to think of another film that was so effortlessly tedious and obnoxious, so cheap-jack, manic and utterly tone-deaf: at least B.C. Butcher was under an hour…this monstrosity felt at least twice that, if not more. I’m obviously not the intended audience for something like this but, even in this case, I really did try to find something worthwhile, anything. At the end, the best that I could say is that it finally does end, eventually: that’s really the best I got, I’m afraid.

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The Pack

Despite all of the tedious haunted house and possession clones, there were still plenty of absolute treasures in the 2016 horror roster and the Australian killer dog film The Pack was one of the very best…maybe Top 5, even, if I were forced to draw up a list today. Expertly plotted, beautifully shot and full of endearing, empathetic performances, everything about this sleeper is top-notch and virtually flawless. With a supremely simple set-up (a pack of uncannily intelligent wild dogs terrorize an Australian family on their isolated sheep ranch) and perfect balance between pulse-pounding action setpieces and genuine horror, this is as lean and mean as it gets. Like the best films, the less said the better: just take my advice and seek this one out ASAP.

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The Interior

Easily one of the most inventive, odd films I screened this month, writer-director Trevor Juras’ full-length debut, The Interior, is pretty impossible to classify. Think of it as an odd, sardonic mash-up of Into the Wild, Dead Man and The Blair Witch Project but that’s probably as far in a box as I can put this one: a cooly blase office drone (Patrick McFadden doing magnificent work) receives some sort of bad medical diagnosis (we’re never really told what) and decides to retreat into the woods, alone, to find some sort of peace within himself.

He doesn’t quite find that but what he does find is certainly open to interpretation: one of the best things about Juras’ confident debut is that there’s no hand-holding, whatsoever. He establishes a consistent mood (helped immensely by the gorgeous forest location and some of the creepiest night scenes ever), gets us to like his main character and then lets the rest develop organically. The Interior is a slow, methodical film but it’s never boring or tedious: as with the best filmmakers, you trust that the destination will be worth the journey and, depending on your level of patience and frustratability, Trevor Juras absolutely does not let down. Eerie, smart and full of surprising humor, The Interior is definitely one of the year’s better films.

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I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

I was fully prepared for Oz Perkins’ second film, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, to vault right to the top of my Best of the Year list: after all, his still unreleased debut, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (nee February), received almost universal praise on the festival circuit, with the filmmaker being credited as the next-big-thing in atmospheric, slow-burn horror. Since that’s my favorite flavor, I was ready and willing to dive in with both hands.Spoiler alert: it’s not making the list.

While I Am…looks gorgeous, sort of like a Merchant/Ivory take on the Waniverse, and features more creeping dread and leisurely pacing than a funeral procession, it’s also completely empty inside, so devoid of genuine meaning and impact as to be the equivalent of cinematic cotton candy. Ruth Wilson’s constant, tedious voiceover is a huge part of the reason the film didn’t work for me (I don’t mind a good voiceover but this was just lazy writing, the equivalent of a white noise machine for sleep problems) but the biggest issue is that the film is just so damn dull. There are plenty of good ideas, here, and no shortage of striking, beautiful imagery: Perkins’ grasp of filmmaking mechanics seem pretty solid, no two ways about it. The revelation is also strong, if simultaneously open-ended, leaving the film on a satisfyingly hazy note.

On the downside, I spent almost the entirety of the film looking at my watch, which is never a good sign. Keep in mind that I’m also the target audience for this type of film: they were preaching to the choir and I still rejected the sermon…that says quite a bit, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t mind style over substance: that can produce some truly unforgettable results, in the right hands. In this case, however, the most that I can say is the film looked great and featured a refreshingly different point-of-view and focus. Next time, I’m hoping that Perkins manages to match those awesome visuals and mood to something with real substance. Call this a near miss but a miss, nonetheless.

Coming up: the final two days of the 31 Days of Halloween, including the main event! Stay tuned!

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