Last month, a 31 Day Horror Challenge meme made its way around social media, and I decided go for it! This is part one, days one through seven, and includes Last Shift, Thir13en Ghosts, The Invitation, Lake Mungo, House on Haunted Hill, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and Drag Me to Hell. I may not have had time to watch each movie in this order on the prescribed day with work and also viewing and writing up OTHER horror movies for this blog, but by Day 7 of the horror challenge, I caught up. It is exciting to see some movies for the first time, and I love re-watching old favorites and finding new things to laugh at or love because of all the horror I’ve seen since my last watch.
Horror Challenge Day 1: First Time Watch – Last Shift
For day one of the horror challenge, I chose 2014’s Last Shift because a lot of people in the horror Facebook groups I belong to were recently praising it as a good scare, and for good reason.
Officer Jessica Loren (Alicia Harkavy, Black Canary in the TV show Arrow) is a rookie officer working her first shift on the last night in a decommissioned police station; her one job is to wait for a Hazmat crew to pick up old evidence sometime between 12am and 4am. A legacy officer whose father was killed working in the same precinct, she has a lot to prove as both a female and the daughter of a well respected officer. Almost immediately after her superior leaves, she begins to experience unexplained phenomena like lights flickering, phone calls from a woman in trouble (even though all 911 calls have been forwarded to the new precinct), scary noises, doors slamming, a vagrant peeing on her floor and trashing the file room – almost every scary scenario you can imagine. Over the course of the night she learns that a demon worshipping, Manson-family inspired cult that killed themselves in holding are posthumously celebrating the anniversary of their demise by tormenting this rookie cop. This psychological horror film builds the fear from one to eleven and never lets up, making this a good scare for even the seasoned horror fan. The Last Shift is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.
Horror Challenge Day 2: Guilty Pleasure: Thir13en Ghosts
Released in 2001 and starring Matthew Lillard (Scream, Scooby Doo) and Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie, Scary Movie) at the height of their teen dream days, and Tony Shalhoub in his post-Monk fame, plus a surprising appearance by F. Murray Abraham (Academy Award winner for Amadeus), Thir13een Ghosts is a remake of a 1960 movie where Arthur Kritikos (Tony Shalhoub) inherits a glass house from his eccentric late uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) that houses twelve ghosts in its basement. The house is reminiscent of the Hellraiser puzzle box as it changes formations (trapping the family inside) and releases new horrors with each change. Cyrus’ former ghost-sensing assistant Dennis (Lillard) gets trapped inside with them, and they all use special glasses to see the angry ghosts attacking them as they try to find their way out of danger. The movie has so many clichés and so much cheesy humor that it borders on silly – but the ghosts are really cool. On the original DVD, the special features included a backstory on each of the twelve (which I’ve included instead of a trailer) which was the BEST thing about the whole production. I watch it for the nostalgia, for the cool ghosts, and the grisly, if physically unrealistic, deaths (I’m looking at you, lawyer scene). Check it out on HBO MAX.
Horror Challenge Day 3: Darkness Dwellers – The Invitation
The Invitation is the newest release in week one of my horror challenge – still in theaters and available to rent for $19.99 on Prime Video, but I highly recommend waiting until you can see it for free, and maybe not even then. The basic plot is of a recently orphaned 20-something New York cater-waiter and sculpture Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel, Game of Thrones) using a DNA service to find long lost family which results in a British cousin (Hugh Skinner, Fleabag) inviting her to an all-expense paid wedding in the English countryside where she can meet the rest of the family. While there she feels an instant attraction to the Lord of the manor (Thomas Doherty, The Descendants), and their whirlwind romance turns into something more sinister and, well, vampiric. The gothic manor is breathtaking, and the costumes, particularly Evie’s ornate gowns, are gorgeous. The acting is fine, but the script is full of plot holes and clichés. The jump scares are cheap and easily scouted, and the whole thing borders on silly.
Horror Challenge Day 4: Australian – Lake Mungo
I had high hopes for Lake Mungo, an Australian found footage movie from 2008. The movie is shot in documentary style, the found footage being photographs and videos recorded during the course of the events. A family goes to a popular lakeside vacation spot where their daughter drowns. Strange events in their home after her death lead to them consult a psychic to determine if their daughter is still with them spiritually. During the course of their investigation, they uncover devastating secrets their daughter was hiding. I read good things about this one and was sorely disappointed. The story is decent, but the whole things feels very monotone – instead of creepy, the movie is really just sad as we watch a grieving family struggling to come to terms with their loss. There are supernatural elements, but they never explain them, and at the end, the movie just sputters out with no climax. Lake Mungo is streaming for free on Tubi (with ads) or available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and other streaming services.
Horror Challenge Day 5: Dark Castle – House on Haunted Hill
1999’s House on Haunted Hill could easily also fit in the “Guilty Pleasure” category as it is silly fun with some laughable special effects and a strangely assemble cast of characters from Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush to SNL alum Chris Cattan. My original plan for Dark Castle day was Orphan: First Kill – but I could not make it through that movie (apologies because I know some people really like it). An eccentric millionaire who made his money through thrills and chills at amusement parks named Stephen Price (a nod to the 1959 version’s star and horror icon Vincent Price) plans a birthday party for his awful wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen) in a famously haunted former asylum where whoever makes it through the night gets $1,000,000. When the guests arrive, they think that making it through the night will be an easy way to earn a life changing sum of money, but as the house starts to come to life, horrific events NOT planned by Price pick them off one-by-one. Despite its flaws, this movie doesn’t skimp on the scares and the gore, and the effect is a creepy popcorn thriller that is very entertaining. It’s a fun bit of nostalgia to see Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Chris Kattan, Bridgette Wilson, and Peter Gallagher either before their star rose, at the end of their run of fame, or just in their younger years. Stream this now on HBO Max.
Horror Challenge Day 6: Game Gone Wrong – Bodies Bodies Bodies
Bodies Bodies Bodies is another new release, but unlike The Invitation, this one is super fun! A group of rich twenty-somethings get together for a hurricane party at David’s (Pete Davidson) remote family mansion with a supply of drugs and alcohol instead of bottled water and flashlights. They play the titular game, and as the category “Game Gone Wrong” suggests – things go very, very wrong. When David turns up dead, the friends turn on the newcomers of the group (Maria Bakalova and Lee Pace) before bringing up their own history of drama – backstabbing, fake friends, and long held grudges that turns deadly with their drug-fueled paranoia in the claustrophobic darkness of a gilded cage. I thoroughly enjoyed this one; the dark humor and soundtrack are signature A24, and the social commentary beneath the shallow exterior plot is too. Bodies Bodies Bodies is available to rent for $20 on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services, and while I enjoyed it immensely, it will be cheaper soon enough.
Horror Challenge Day 7: From Hell – Drag Me To Hell
To finish out week one in my horror challenge, I chose Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell. As a Sam Raimi fan I love this movie despite the culturally problematic gypsy curse plotline. Drag Me To Hell is quintessential Sam Raimi horror and the first film in his career-making genre in twenty years. Christine (Allison Lohman) works as a loan officer at a bank. In an effort to impress her boss and get the coveted assistant manager position, she denies a loan extension on a twice-extended mortgage for an elderly and infirm woman who can’t pay. The furious woman curses Christine in the parking garage after an incredible car battle with office supplies turned weapons between the freakishly strong and resilient senior citizen and Christine, giving her three days before a demon appears and…drags her to hell. In the meantime, the effects of the curse will haunt Christine in creative and grotesque ways ruining all she has worked so hard to achieve and overcome – her job, relationship, and sanity. The storytelling and directorial style encompass everything Raimi has learned from The Evil Dead to Spider Man, from the gross-out dinner scene to the attempt at curse breaking séance, it all drips with Sam Raimi’s signature dark wit and surprising visuals. This movie is a blast and probably my favorite in this list. Stream it on Peacock this Halloween season and you won’t be disappointed.
Stay tuned for the 31 Day Horror Challenge: Week 2 which features two of the most famous horror icons in horror history!
What is on your 31 Day Horror Challenge List? Let me know in the comments!