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Coming-of-Age with a Vampire: Let Me In, the Film

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The concept of vampires or vampire-like beings — undead who return from the grave and exist by stealing the “life essence” (flesh or blood) of the living — has existed in the folklore of virtually all cultures for centuries. In earliest times, these blood-stealing beings were considered spirits or demons, but they have always been some of the most terrifying paranormal creatures to stalk mankind.

The vampire most familiar to many of us originated in southeastern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and counted among its reviled membership suicides, revenants, people accused of practicing witchcraft, people suspected of being possessed, or anyone who might have rebelled against Christian doctrine or Church teachings. During the Age of Enlightenment, “belief in vampires increased dramatically,” and many rituals were developed to both identify and protect humans from these undead creatures, including hanging wreaths of garlic on doors or windows, blessing people, rooms, and houses with holy water, and staking or decapitating corpses to prevent the bodies from returning.

800-year-old skeleton found in Bulgaria stabbed through the chest with iron rod, via Wikipedia

Not only did these undead creatures harm and kill the living in order to maintain their own existence, they often appeared in their human form, albeit slightly changed in complexion and dental work, and lured their own loved ones to the grave. In the 18th century, vampire superstition in Europe sometimes reached mass hysteria, causing corpses to be staked or beheaded to ensure that they couldn’t rise from the dead to seek out more victims.

Originally, vampires were dark, gruesome beings: unattractive and undeniably otherworldly. In the early 19th century, with fiction, vampires changed, becoming less gruesome and more… shall we say, attractive.

The charismatic and sophisticated vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori; the story was highly successful and arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century. Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and provided the basis of the modern vampire legend. The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century, with books, films, and television shows. The vampire has since become a dominant figure in the horror genre.

Though vampires have long been a feature of the horror genre, there’s a strange trend in contemporary vampire fiction, and the dramas based on them, including Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. Vampires, despite needing the blood of living humans or other animals to survive, have been romanticized to the point of being almost totally non-violent. Some of the vampires in these contemporary novels are even more humane and virtuous than most human beings, which may be the point since the novels in which these vampires appear are romances and love stories. It’s a sweet interpretation of vampires: if they love you, they won’t harm you.

The Vampire, by Philip Burne-Jones, 1897

But part of the terror of really great vampire stories is that the vampires can harm or even kill you, despite their caring about you. Maybe I’m prejudiced because my earliest introduction to vampires was the dreaded Count of Stoker’s classic Dracula, and horror films where vampires, be they Dracula or not, were dangerous and monstrous creatures that would kill you even if they liked you. I agree with film critic Roger Ebert when he points out that vampire stories, whether books or films, are inherently “tragic” and “brutal.”

It’s not all fun, games, and Team Edward. No lifestyle depending on fresh human blood can be anything but desperate. A vampire, like a drug addict, is driven by need. After a certain point, all else is irrelevant, and the focus is on the craving.

The horror film Let Me In (2010), a remake of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, returns the vampire story to horror in its most horrifying manifestations. Though some critics describe this film as “romantic,” it is more a coming-of-age story than a romance, and it is a brutal coming-of-age tale. Despite the fact that several of the characters in the story love each other, most devotedly, Let Me In is a tale of isolation, alienation, brutality, helplessness, and the desperate will to survive by any means possible. These themes set this vampire film far above its contemporaries. It isn’t pretty or romantic to be a vampire or associated with a vampire in Let Me In. Instead, it’s downright lonely and scary.

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen, Let Me In © Overture Films

In a fictional version of Los Alamos, a small village in New Mexico, a string of grisly murders causes the community to lock its doors and become uncommonly wary. Twelve-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely social outcast, neglected by his divorcing parents and bullied by his classmates.

Chloë Grace Moretz as Abby, Let Me In © Overture Films

Owen becomes friendly with his new neighbor Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), who lives in the adjoining apartment with a man that Owen assumes is her father (Richard Jenkins), and who seems to have some unnatural, even pedophiliac feelings for Abby.

Richard Jenkins and Chloë‘ Grace Moretz, Let Me In © Overture Films

Owen and Abby communicate by tapping Morse code on the walls at night, and they become extremely close to each other, if only because each is a loner: each is isolated from everyone else at school, and each seems to have a distant relationship with the parent figure in their lives. Though Owen and Abby like each other,  Abby’s father-guardian doesn’t want her to spend any time with Owen.

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen, Let Me In © Overture Films

As the bullying against Owen increases and gets more physically violent, he confides in Abby, rather than in his own mother. Abby encourages Owen to stand up for himself, to retaliate against the bullies, and, most important, vows to protect him.

Chloë Grace Moretz as Abby, Let Me In © Overture Films

When Abby’s father-guardian kills himself, she is as alone in the world as Owen perceives himself to be, and the pair becomes closer to each other. Abby promises to be Owen’s girlfriend.

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz, Let Me In © Overture Films

When Owen becomes violent, in self-defense, to the boys who are bullying him, the story of the local murders and of his own coming-of-age combine: the detective (Elias Koteas) investigating the murders has begun investigating Abby.

Elias Koteas as the detective, Let Me In © Overture Films

After Owen sees Abby do something violent, and she asks for his help, he is forced to re-evaluate his own morality. Owen has formed a profound and protective bond with Abby, but he must now consider the possibility that she may be responsible for the gruesome killings that are terrorizing his small community.

[Very] close to the much-loved, critically acclaimed” Swedish original Let the Right One In, and equally critically acclaimed itself, Let Me In is a coming-of-age story about isolation and loneliness, about alienation and a need to connect, about brutality and the primitive need to exist. It’s a coming-of-age story with a paranormal twist. Featuring great performances by the child-actors, and a completely unexpected ending, Let Me In is available for rent ($2.99-3.99 SD/HD) from Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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Horror and Suspense Films

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listed in alphabetical order by name of film

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

To Make Cynics of Us All:
Devil, The Horror Film

The Tragedy Doomed to Repeat Itself:
The Devil’s Backbone: The Film

The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

Setting the World on Fire:
The Girl with All The Gifts, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

When Children Scare You To Death:
Orphan, the Film

Not For Children:
The Horror Film The Orphanage

The World of the Living and The World of The Dead:
The Others, the Film

Slasher-Horror as Art Film:
Psycho, The Classic

Suspense via Edgar Allan Poe:
The Raven, the 2012 Film

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

You Are Now Entering the Cruel World:
Texas Killing Fields, the Film

Hansel and Gretel with a Video Camera:
The Visit, the 2015 Film

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Slasher-Horror as Art Film: Psycho, the Classic

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Based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, which was itself loosely based on the story of Wisconsin serial killer and cannibal Ed Gein, the 1960 film Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was filmed in black & white, by a television crew, on a small budget, because Paramount had already rejected the project, claiming its subject matter was “too repulsive… and impossible” for film. Hitchcock, who had already optioned the novel, then financed the film himself. According to film critic Roger Ebert, Psycho (1960) “remains the most effective slashing in movie history, suggesting that … artistry [is] more important than graphic details.” Because Hitchcock was answerable to no one but himself, he succeeded in creating one of the greatest psychological horror films ever made. At the same time, he created an art film classic.

Janet Leigh as Marion, and John Gavin as Sam, Psycho © Universal

The story begins as if it were a crime mystery. Marion (Janet Leigh) is having an affair with Sam (John Gavin), and she is distressed that they cannot marry because of his debts. Later that afternoon, when she returns to work, Marion is asked to take a substantial cash deposit of $40K to the bank. Instead, Marion absconds with the money, hoping to use it so she and Sam run away together.

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, Psycho © Universal

That night, in a thunderstorm, Marion stays at an isolated and mostly unoccupied motel, managed by a young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Though handsome, Norman is gawky, and he has an odd hobby: taxidermy. The room where he serves Marion dinner is filled with dead and stuffed birds of prey.

From the spooky house overlooking the motel, Norman’s mentally ill mother can be heard berating him, and this elicits Marion’s sympathy for him. It also makes her re-evaluate her own crime, which would hurt not only her employer but his client as well. Marion takes a shower, symbolically cleansing herself of her evil intentions since she has apparently decided to return the stolen cash, when…

The famous shower scene, with Janet Leigh, Psycho © Universal

You may or may not know about the most famous shower scene in all of cinematic history, but the rest of the story becomes an intense murder mystery as the audience’s sympathy is shifted from impulsive criminal Marion to horrified son Norman as he desperately attempts to protect his dangerous mother.

Anthony Perkins as Norman, Psycho © Universal

In a move that, even now, is considered outrageously audacious, Hitchcock directs the film’s viewing audience as much as he did its actors: about a third of the way into the film, he takes all the viewers’ attention away from the ostensible protagonist — played by the film’s star power, Janet Leigh — and focuses the story on the newly introduced Norman. “I was directing the viewers,” [Hitchcock] told [fellow director] Truffaut in their book-length interview. “You might say I was playing them, like an organ.”

Martin Balsam as Detective Arbogast, Psycho © Universal

As Norman is feverishly working to protect his violent mother from discovery, Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) is desperately worried about Marion, who has disappeared. While asking Marion’s lover Sam about her whereabouts, the pair is approached by a detective (Martin Balsam), who has been hired to retrieve the stolen money. Sam and Lila encourage the detective to search for Marion, confident that some mistake has been made concerning the missing funds, which they assume Marion will be able to explain.

Vera Miles as Lila, John Gavin as Sam, and Anthony Perkins as Norman, Psycho © Universal

When the detective fails to contact them as arranged, Sam and Lila decide that they must investigate the mysterious happenings surrounding the isolated motel themselves…

Vera Miles, Psycho © Universal

Even if that means they must break into the spooky old house where Norman’s mother is obviously keeping watch over everything that happens down at the motel.

Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh, and Best Director for Hitchcock, Psycho is considered one of Hitchcock’s best films. Marred only by the final scene with the psychiatrist — which appears before the classic finale with Norman and his mother — Psycho is a classic thriller, with enough realistic spookiness to keep you up at night.

Available for rent ($2.99/3.99 SD/HD) or purchase (about $6.99) from Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, and GooglePlay.

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The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

Not For Children: The Horror Film The Orphanage

The Tragedy Doomed to Repeat Itself:
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When Children Scare You To Death:
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The World of the Dead and the World of the Living: The Others, the Film

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The World of the Dead and the World of the Living: The Others, the Film

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Okay, so the lit-tra-chure purists complain that this film, which some say was inspired by Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw, isn’t really like the book. In The Turn of the Screw, a governess at an isolated estate with two young children in her care claims that she sees ghosts. Further, the governess becomes convinced that the children already know about the ghosts even if they never admit to actually seeing them. Because the governess is completely psychologically unreliable, and because viewers’ perspective is limited to that of the emotionally vulnerable woman, we never know if there are actually any ghosts roaming about the old mansion or whether the governess is losing her mind.

The Innocents (C)

Some film buffs prefer the 1956 Deborah Kerr version of The Innocents to Alejandro Amenábar film The Others because they say the former is closer to James’ book, and The Innocents is a fantastic suspense film. But for a suspense film that I want to watch over and over, give me Nicole Kidman and the stunning child actors in The Others (2001), written and directed by Amenábar, which is a combination ghost story and psychological suspense thriller. Like the governess in Turn of the Screw and The Innocents, Kidman’s character is alone in an isolated mansion with two young children, and strange things begin to happen. Strange things that make her character wonder if she’s losing her mind. But unlike either the novella or the earlier film, what’s really happening in The Others is even more horrifying than anything the isolated woman might imagine. You’ll have to watch the film several times to see all the clues you missed the first time, but you won’t mind because The Others is one of the best suspense films ever made.

Nicole Kidman as Grace, The Others © Lionsgate

In a secluded island mansion during World War II, a sad, lonely, and devoutly religious wife, Grace (Nicole Kidman), patiently cares for her home and two children, Anne (Alakina Mann)

Alikina Mann as Anne, The Others © Lionsgate

and Nicholas (James Bentley),

Nicole Kidman as Grace, and James Bentley as Nicholas, The Others © Lionsgate

while waiting for her husband (Christopher Eccelston) to return from the War.

Christopher Eccelston as Charles, The Others © Lionsgate

All the servants have deserted the house, without warning, so Grace and her little family are very anxious and alone. When three servants mysteriously appear, Grace somewhat reluctantly accepts their help. Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan) assures Grace that, though they did not come specifically in answer to Grace’s advertisement, the trio has not only been in service, but that they have preciously worked in this very house.

Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs. Mills, The Others © Lionsgate

Mrs. Mills will be the housekeeper and cook, the mute Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) will clean,

Elaine Cassidy as Lydia, The Others © Lionsgate

and Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes) will take care of the grounds.

Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs Mills, Elaine Cassidy as Lydia, Eric Sykes as Mr Tuttle, The Others © Lionsgate

Besides the mysterious arrival of the servants, there are some other strange things going on in this lonely house. The children Anne and Nicholas suffer from Xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare genetic disorder in which the body’s ability to repair damage caused by ultraviolet light is deficient. To protect the children, all the curtains have to be kept closed in any room through which the children might pass.

The Others © Lionsgate

To prevent the children from getting horrific burns caused by accidental exposure to sunlight, the doors to each room must be closed and locked before another door is opened. Mrs Mills is not the only one to think things are… well, odd in the house.

Because of the War, or the children’s “condition,” or both, Grace home-schools Anne and Nicholas, though she sometimes forces her own Catholic beliefs on them when they clearly have formed their own, contrary opinions about God, the afterlife, faith, and Bible stories.

Alakina Mann as Anne, James Bentley as Nicholas, and Nicole Kidman as Grace, The Others © Lionsgate

Besides the “returning” servants, the spooky fog that always surrounds the house, and the children’s “condition” which makes almost total darkness and locked doors a necessity, there’s something else really scary and nerve-jangling going on in the old house.

Nicole Kidman, Alakina Mann, and James Bentley, The Others © Lionsgate

Noises, knocks, bumps in the night, crying, voices, weeping… Grace thinks the children are playing pranks on her. Then she thinks the servants are just being downright unprofessional by making such a racket. But then, slowly, she begins to suspect that there is something even more frightening going on.

Nicole Kidman as Grace, and Christopher Eccelston as Charles, The Others © Lionsgate

More frightening than the behavior of her husband Charles, whom she discovers in the woods around the house, who seems to have returned from the War in body, though not in spirit.

Eric Sykes as Mr Tuttle, The Others © Lionsgate

More frightening than Mr Tuttle’s covering all those graves with dead leaves, which Grace doesn’t even know about yet.

When her daughter Anne begins to insist that she’s heard — and seen — other people in the house — a little boy named Victor, in particular — Grace gets terrified. She’s not afraid that she’s losing her mind, however: she’s more convinced that the house has somehow become haunted, and that, furthermore, the ghosts are determined to hurt her children.

Nicole Kidman as Grace, The Others © Lionsgate

And Grace will do anything to protect her children from harm. Anything at all. Even if it means arming herself to protect her family.

Winner of 8 Goya Awards (Spanish Academy Awards), and the first English-language film to win the Goya for Best Picture without having a single word of Spanish in it, The Others has no special effects whatsoever, but it’s one of the best horror films ever made. Nicole Kidman, who “succeeds in convincing us that she is a normal person in a disturbing situation,” was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA (British Academy Awards) for Best Actress.

The Others is available for rent ($2.99/3.99 SD/HD) or purchase ($6.99) on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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#NoSpoilers

The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

Not For Children: The Horror Film The Orphanage

The Tragedy Doomed to Repeat Itself:
The Devil’s Backbone: The Film

To Make Cynics of Us All:
Devil, The Horror Film

When Children Scare You To Death:
Orphan, the Film

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When Children Scare You to Death: Orphan, the Film

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This story has been recycled a few times: parents who are longing for another child and also to do good in the world — no, not Angelina and Brad — adopt an older, unwanted orphan from another country — in this case, Russia — and bring her home to the good life in America. Where everything starts to go wrong. Where only one of the parents notices that the orphan is not everything s/he seems. Where the parent who attempts to warn others that something is not quite right with the new family member is dismissed as neurotic or overly stressed or… whatever… so no one believes the warnings.

Though at first glance the story in the 2009 film Orphan might seem a bit trite, the mesmerizing performance of Isabelle Fuhrman as the orphan Esther overcomes any of the film’s predictable weaknesses. Not unreasonably, however, some adoptive parents and adoption agencies objected to yet another film displaying orphans, especially older ones or children from eastern European countries, as dangerous or seriously flawed. But Orphan puts a totally surprising spin on this orphan-who-goes-bad tale so that it becomes an unexpectedly shocking horror film.

Vera Farmiga as Kate, and Peter Sarsgaard as John, in Orphan © Warner Brothers

Why do parents Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard), who already have two children, want yet another child after Kate has a miscarriage? The movie doesn’t make the couple’s longing for more children clear, though it does paint Kate and John with some typical clichés: Kate is a recovering alcoholic who is inexplicably devastated by the miscarriage, John is über-career-oriented and doesn’t seem to notice how unhappy Kate is, so the miscarriage has strained their marriage and they think another child will somehow heal it.

Vera Farmiga as Kate, and Peter Sarsgaard as John, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Their two children already seem like quite a handful for parents to handle:

Jimmy Bennett as Daniel, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) tends to do some unpleasant things with homemade weapons,

Aryanna Engineer as Max, Orphan © Warner Brothers

and Max (Aryana Engineer) cannot speak so must communicate with sign language.

CCH Pounder as Sister Abigail, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Rather than wait till Kate is healed, physically and emotionally, from the miscarriage, Kate and John want another child right now. To fix their disintegrating marriage and expand their too-small family, Kate and John visit a local orphanage. There, under the watchful eye of Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder), who warns that Esther is “very mature for her age,” Kate and John become enamored of Esther (Isabelle Furhman), who seems just too-too-good to be true.

Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Because, of course, Esther is too good to be true.

As soon as Kate and John get their new daughter home, there are some problems. Though Max immediately embraces her new sister, Daniel is perturbed by Esther. Whether his is already feeling neglected or he fears two sisters will be too much for any boy in any one household to handle is not clear, but Daniel is less than welcoming.

In any event, Esther immediately shows some signs of being… well, more than “very mature.” She shows signs of being… strange. Like wanting to wear clothes to school that are entirely inappropriate for her age and way inappropriate for grammar school, or wanting to wear makeup that would make the average street-walking prostitute look au naturel. Esther gets really very perturbed when things don’t go her way, relly upset when other children don’t immediately accept her, or really angry and violent when… well, I’m sure you already know all this part of the story.

Isabelle Furhman as Esther, Orphan © Warner Brothers

By the time things start to go really wrong with Esther and Mother Kate gets concerned, no one else wants to listen to her. After all, she’s a recovering alcoholic and a grieving mother and…
And that’s about where the clichés in the film end.

Isabelle Furhman as Esther, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Because once things start to really go wrong, once Esther begins to get really scary, Orphan becomes an unexpected horror film with a unique twist. No matter what you imagine is the reason behind Esther’s unpleasant and increasingly atrocious behavior, I doubt you will figure out the real reason this orphan is very angry and wicked. And I doubt you will figure out what she really wants from her adopted family.

Though the reviews are mixed, Orphan was a prize-winner in several Independent Film Festivals, and Isabelle Fuhrman as the orphan Esther was virtually universally acclaimed. Some critics compared Fuhrman’s performance as Esther to that of Linda Blair in The Exorcist and Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed, both of which are horror classics.

On Cinemax this month, Orphan is also available for rent ($2.99-3.99) on Amazon (free with a 7-day Cinemax trial), YouTube, Vudu, GooglePlay, and iTunes.

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7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World

The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

Scary Because It’s Possible:
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The Demons Within:
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The Tragedy Doomed to Repeat Itself:
The Devil’s Backbone: The Film

To Make Cynics of Us All:
Devil, The Horror Film

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