In typical Hollywood fashion, January has become the new October. This didn’t happen overnight, but it’s been a gradual process (after all, it takes a lot of effort to move a month) that has now been more or less completed and made official. Of course, we’re talking about movies – what the hell else did you think we were discussing? But it’s true: whereas October used to be the month for a lot of big horror releases – with, you know, Halloween and all that sort of happening around that time – now it’s the beginning of the year, barely days after the holiday decorations have been stashed away and the last of the leftover Chinese food from New Year’s Day thrown out.

Why is this? Who knows? There’s no logic to anything that happens around this town. But a while back – probably around the time the monster movie Cloverfield became a surprise January hit – someone figured out that moviegoers liked being scared no matter what time of year it was. And with October already filling up with Oscar-bait – parts of the awards season run that begins in late September and ends around Christmas – it seemed like a good idea to move the scary movies a few months away.

January’s always been known as the cinematic dumping ground for the studios, where they unload all their really crappy pictures in the hopes of picking up a few bucks, and sadly a lot of horror films (we say this as a devotee) seem to end up here. So between the desire to get out of October and January’s already unsavory reputation, the new month of a thousand frights was born. Not everything is bad; occasionally some genuine gems get released, and there’s usually something noteworthy on the Blu-ray front as well.

So here’s a look at this month’s offerings from your new home for horror…January:


Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones: This actually came out on Friday (January 3rd) and acts as a “cousin” to the incredibly popular Paranormal Activity franchise, which skipped its own October release berth for the first time in four years this past fall. The Marked Ones doesn’t reinvent the wheel – it still uses the found footage format and ends up deploying many of the same shock tactics in its second half – but the setting has been changed from suburban San Diego to gritty Oxnard, there’s a decent attempt to show the everyday life of the young and appealing Latino players and build up some empathy for them, and at least the home video cameras don’t remain stationary. It still ends up being more of the same in terms of the scares, but there’s a nutty attempt to turn the whole mythology on its head at the end that should have interesting implications when Paranormal Activity 5 finally comes out next October.

The Banshee Chapter: This tiny independent thriller boasts Zachary Quinto (Spock in the rebooted Star Trek movies) as an executive producer and Ted Levine – the ghastly “Buffalo Bill” in The Silence of the Lambs – as a sort of loony Hunter S. Thompson stand-in. And that’s not all: there are also strange radio transmissions, secret government drug experiments, beings from another dimension and human mutations in the mix, not to mention some authentically creepy scares. Katia Winter stars as a young reporter who attempts to learn what happened to her boyfriend after he took some leftover drugs from the CIA’s appalling MK-ULTRA program. The blend of actual documentary footage, fake “found footage” and straight narrative occasionally fails the murky plot, but Winter and Levine are up to the challenge and writer/director Blair Erickson keeps a sustained tone of dread throughout. (out on VOD; limited theatrical run January 10th).

Devil’s Due: It’s kind of amazing that no one has used this title yet for a horror picture – and one about a demonic birth, which makes it sort of perfect. This Fox release more or less lifts a large chunk of Rosemary’s Baby and adapts it to the “found footage” format, as newly wedded couple Zach (Zach Gilford) and Samantha (Allison Miller) experience a lost night and find out a couple of weeks later that Samantha is pregnant. You can only imagine what happened during that night. We’re over the “found footage” thing so we’re not sure whether this will work — a couple documenting the arrival of their first child is at least a good reason to keep filming — but the trailer hints at some creepy sequences. It’s directed by Radio Silence, a filmmaking quartet who helmed the final sequence of V/H/S.  (out January 17th)

I, Frankenstein: What went wrong for poor Aaron Eckhart, who just five years ago starred in acclaimed films like The Dark Knight and Rabbit Hole? Based on a graphic novel, I, Frankenstein follows Eckhart as the famed doctor’s creation (frustratingly called “Frankenstein” himself in both the movie’s marketing and dialogue – he’s not, damn it!), still alive 200 years later and caught in a stock apocalyptic war between two factions of indistinguishable CG monsters. There’s always hope that this will be a pleasant surprise, but when you’re watching a trailer for two minutes before you realize it’s for a film and not a video game, that doesn’t bode well. This sadly looks like it may fit the January release model all too well.  (out January 24th)


We Are What We Are: This English-language remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s 2010 Mexican horror film is one of the better genre surprises to come along in recent months. Directed by Jim Mickle (Stake Land), We Are What We Are tells the story of the Parkers, a small-town family hiding a terrible family secret. Atmospheric, well-acted, subtle where it needs to be and shocking at the right moments, the movie (released on Blu-ray on January 7th) is a nerve-jangling exercise in Gothic horror. Michael Parks is excellent as a local doctor who discovers he has a personal connection to the horrors within the Parker house, while Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers are stunning as the two little Parker girls forced to take responsibility for their family.

You’re Next: A very good home invasion thriller that got wildly overrated by a bunch of bloggers who saw it early at a couple of festivals, You’re Next comes to Blu-ray after being criminally ignored at the box office last August. While we don’t think the film is the instant horror classic some made it out to be, it did deserve a better reception, as it does have a few fresh twists and one hell of a great performance from crafty heroine Sharni Vinson going for it. On the other hand, some of the supporting cast is iffy and in the end, it’s a small story that’s missing the resonance of truly great horror cinema. But is it worth a look? Absolutely.  (out January 14th)

Die Monster Die!: Based on the H.P. Lovecraft story “The Colour Out of Space,” this 1965 British production is helped tremendously by the presence of Boris Karloff, whose discovery of a strange, glowing rock leads to bizarre mutations in the plants and animals around his house – not to mention his wife (Freda Jackson). Karloff always brings gravity and dignity to whatever he appears in. Leading man Nick Adams, however, seems out of place – the one-time Rebel Without a Cause star is just too blue-collar to be traipsing around an English mansion. Die Monster Die! does have its effective moments, as when Adams and Suzan Farmer find the greenhouse full of mutations, or when Karloff himself transforms at the end into an eerie metallic creature. There are a few scratches on the print, but otherwise Scream Factory has done an admirable job bringing the film’s atmospheric images to Blu-ray (out January 21st).

Cat People: Paul Schrader’s 1982 remake of the Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur 1942 classic is everything the original is not: gory, explicit, occasionally crass and frequently inelegant. Tourneur’s film is widely regarded as a masterpiece of subtlety; Schrader’s lays everything on the table, starting with the origin of the race to which virginal yet sexy Irena (an exotic Nastassia Kinski) and her lecherous, depraved brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) belong. As in the original, sexual arousal turns Irena into a cat; unlike the original, Paul (added for this version) sees incest as the only way to keep their monstrous side under control. The problem is that Schrader can never settle on whether he’s making a psychological horror tale or a sex-and-blood splatterfest. Relax and treat it as the latter and you’ll have some fun with this pleasing Shout! Factory Blu-ray. (out January 21st)