31 for 31
Your Halloween Mixtape
31 for 31 is a curated film program for the month of October. Conceived as a compilation mixtape, the program explores the historical and cultural legacy of Horror cinema. Consider this my billet-doux to the genre.
Long before streaming was common fashion, renting a movie was a process of discovery commanded by the senses. Picking that beat-up case up off the shelf was a tangible experience that scrolling through a digital menu could never supplant. And without instant access to reviews and trailers, your decision often rested on the film’s graphics and artwork. Most movie posters consist of a panorama of floating heads: photographs meshed together to promote the actors and some elements of the story told. For Horror, which relied less on star power, the posters tend to be much more abstract. This caught my eye — even as a kid. If you quizzed me about the cover of Meet Joe Black, I’d hazard it was a pastiche of characters and Brad Pitt’s oversized head (correct). Ask me to describe The Silence of the Lambs, and I could sketch it from memory: Jodie Foster, a moth, and that little skull.
The proclivity toward the abstract in the cover art of horror films speaks to the latitude of the genre’s storytelling — what I consider to be Horror’s most compelling feature. The absolute best horror films act as chasers for much stronger subject matter. Director Edgar Wright would describe them as “Trojan Horses”; stories whose ostensible purpose is to scare and entertain, yet whose rich subtext is lurking underneath the glossy (sometimes gory) surface. Much more than merely teenage vampires and lunatics in hockey masks, Horror is a sharp weapon to confront real issues. Whether it be highlighting personified depression in The Babadook, or insidious, ingrained racism à la Get Out, the allegories embedded in Horror films are far more effective in confronting societal ills than the storylines of literal dramas. I stan Noah Baumbach’s 2019 film, but Rosemary’s Baby is the more compelling marriage story.
It’s no secret that Horror has seen its ups and downs and — let’s face it — has a reputation of being quite schlocky. This reputation notwithstanding, the genre endures and, like many of its icons (Michael Myers, Jason, Pennywise), refuses to stay dead. I attribute this resilience to the generally low bar people set for the genre (mine resting somewhere within the Mariana Trench) and the measured dopamine kick that only Horror can supply.
I’m down to clown with a horror film anytime, but it’s during October that I feast. The leadup to Halloween is, of course, the best time to binge on frights. To me, it’s the only holiday that gets better as you get older. You may grow up and learn Santa isn’t real, but hey, you can still spend the fall in your forties as a flesh-eating alien. It’s just good fun and, even as I grow more cynical — perhaps more undead — inside, I can always count on Halloween. So while I’ll no doubt watch a handful of films for Christmas, for Halloween I can scarf down 30 or 40, easy.
In 2020, October 31st falls on a Saturday for the first time in years, during a full moon, and on the Fall Equinox. Thus, it so happens, we have a rare, 25-hour Halloween. A legendary event (or so we all thought). Realizing that COVID was going to kill the 7th iteration of my annual costume party, I am compelled to keep the spirit of the holiday alive — and keep my quarantined self sane — with a fun holiday project. And here it is: a Halloween film program. 31 horror films for the 31 days of October. 31 for 31.
“The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts.”
As John Cusack or Zoë Kravitz might say: “The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts.” Well said Robs. My intent here, more than anything else, was to create an experience for the viewer. It was essential that this felt crafted. So calling this a “film program” is a bit of a misnomer — and, if I’m honest, strikes as a bit square. 31 for 31 is more like a mixtape, and that inspiration became the defining trait guiding this venture. Like any mixtape worth its salt, you don’t just play the hits. Otherwise, you risk running dull, or worse (!) uninspired (definitely a “don’t”). A boss mixtape has its requisite bangers, but it also demands diversity. It could not devolve into “31 horror films that you’ve never heard of.” I’m not writing for Buzzfeed, and, quite frankly, I didn’t want to exert 15,000 words jerking myself off because I’ve seen some gialli. Nor does this mixtape represent 31 scariest films or even the 31 best horror films. Rather, my choices were rooted in the belief that specific pairings would produce certain “melodies.” Some rhythms might be familiar. For others, you may uncover new sensations. The balance between the mainstream and obscure served as my cinematic lodestar. Read another way: it’s a tasty blend of singles and deep cuts.
It goes without saying, but 31 for 31 is meant to be watched in order, on the day assigned. Like a physical audiotape: the sequence is locked in, there’s no skipping tracks. The flow of films is as integral as the selections themselves. Mixtapes are eclectic by design; mine is no different. It spans decades and continents, oscillates in tone, and offers a thick slice of the Horror genre in many manifestations. This list could have been 1,000 entries long — the shortlist alone clocked in around 150 titles — but only 31 precious slots were available. Fused together, the films form one big picture; each is a piece within a mosaic. These constraints meant no films were safe, and many I adore ended up on the chopping block. It didn’t matter if they followed the so-called rules. If they upset the tempo, they got the ax.
If this all sounds pretentious AF, fear not. 31 for 31 lives somewhere between the academic and the absurd; Idle Hands getting an honorable mention should dispel any notions that there’s a broom up my ass. Halloween is fun, so my motivations and intentions were both rooted in that sentiment. So if you’ve come this far, perhaps you’ll come a little further. All you need to do is hit…