We’re halfway through the spooky season and I’m three horror movies, two horror TV shows and a horror anthology deep into celebrating.
I kicked October off with a rewatch of “Hellraiser,” which I originally watched several years ago but since I watched the first four Hellraiser movies in quick succession, the plots all blended together. The first movie is still a lot of fun, I think, if you’re a horror fan. The monster designs are excellent with that bizarre mix of camp and horror that defined the ’80s, and the story is pretty straightforward, although with enough worldbuilding and lore to capture the imagination of viewers.
The second movie I watched was the Japanese film “Emotion” (1966), which my friend showed me. I’m not sure it could accurately be called a horror film but it has themes that are deeply rooted in “Dracula” and, I think, de Sade. It’s an experimental film, so, while it has a narrative, it plays a lot with storytelling and filming techniques that will probably put off casual viewers.
Finally, I watched “A Chinese Ghost Story,” which is a movie I like a lot. Like “Hellraiser,” “A Chinese Ghost Story” was released in 1987 and has heavy ’80s horror campiness. What makes it unique, though, is that while it’s clearly influenced by American horror movies and the infusion of comedy into horror, it also draws from Chinese martial arts films (wuxia), Chinese mythology and Buddhism. The comedy in the film still holds up and it’s a mix of slapstick and satire. The monsters are a lot of fun and while the special effects aren’t great, anything more realistic would have ruined the tone.
Unfortunately, the two horror TV shows I’ve started are mildly disappointing so far, although I’m only two episodes into each. The first is “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” which is based on a short story I recommended last year called “The Turn of the Screw.” I really like the story it’s based on, so even if I end up not liking the series I’m still going to finish it. The show is made by the same people who made “The Haunting of Hill House” (based on the book of the same name) and I enjoyed it a lot but Bly Manor isn’t quite living up to the scares in Hill House so far.
The second horror show I’ve started is called “Hellier.” It’s a documentary series about … well, it’s hard to say what it’s about. Goblins that are also aliens and live in an underground cave system in Kentucky and have ties to Bigfoot, I suppose. That’s part of the problem with the show, there’s a lot going on but not a lot actually happens. It’s definitely kind of a love letter to early 2000s paranormal programming and the online communities that grew out of those shows, and they’re trying to legitimize themselves with references to a lot of more obscure paranormal things like the idea of “high strangeness” and the Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter, and then maximizing their potential audience by combining cryptids and UFOs, but it’s a little overwhelming. I think, if you’re into classic paranormal documentaries, you’ll like “Hellier.” If you’re just curious but don’t have a lot of experience running in those circles, it’ll just be a confusing mess. I can applaud their use of tension, but it should pay off eventually and after two hours of watching all I’ve gotten is a few blurry photos and children’s drawings. It’s as much a documentary about the phenomenon as it is a documentary about making a documentary.
Finally, I’m reading “Classic Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories” by editor Rex Collings. It’s a lot of fun to revisit these classic stories where ghosts are inherently terrifying and don’t need to do or say anything to absolutely mentally wreck the characters. They just exist and go about their business and the narrator completely loses it. I also love the language used in the stories and find it very poetic and engaging.
Johanna Armstrong is the editor of the Lifestyle section.