66 Things to Do in Salem, MA

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Halloween - derby st house

The famous Derby St House of fantastic decorations. They make an incredible effort every year that it’s a tourist attraction in and of itself – even on Christmas. Next to Dave Eng’s Flowers, 136 1/2 Derby St.

Because I like lists, and sympathise with the tourist dilemma of “Bollocks! We only have 5 hours to spend here – what do we do first??”, I’ve decided to compile a big fat list of 66* awesome things to do in Salem.

*Yes, this list could have been shorter, but the number 66 is evilly cool, and Salem is a spooky, kooky version of that surreal little hamlet in Gilmore Girls, so ner. (Click “Continue reading” to read more!)

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31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 31: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, Episodes 1-3 [2022]

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And so another year’s horror-thon comes to a close. Since covid I’ve stayed in for Hallowe’en, a far cry from my annual childhood parties or the multi-month-long carnival that is autumnal life in Salem. So what better way to ring out my 9th 31 Days of Hallowe’en with the presentation of one of our modern masters of horror?

Also: Happy Hallowe’en!

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is an anthology series presented by del Toro – literally, with openings in the style of Hitchcock – with each of its eight episodes helmed by different directors. Tonight I sat down and watched the first three, and it was a very mixed bag for me, so I’d rather score them individually for that reason.

Episode 1: Lot 36

The first episode, directed by Guillermo Navarro, stars Tim Blake Nelson as a racist piece of shit who also happens to be a war veteran, but whose days currently revolve around purchasing storage units to see what he can salvage while not getting the shit kicked out of him by loan sharks. One day he comes across a lot owned by a literal Nazi and stumbles upon some occult artefacts but, naturally, he doesn’t believe in any of this and proceeds to blunder his way through the rest of this predictable episode, which is impossibly slow-moving and features too hateful of a protagonist to spend this much time with. It seems to hark back to a Tales From The Crypt style in which there’s no scares, spooky atmosphere, tension or dread until the episode’s final moments but by then, I just didn’t give a shit.

Score: πŸŽƒπŸŽƒ

Episode 2: Graveyard Rats

Directed by Vincenzo Natali, this one genuinely scared me as it built up suffocating levels of dread while still maintaining its own distinctly camp, grim, grimy style. It’s largely a one-man show for David Hewlett, who plays grave robber Masson, and he absolutely nails every beat of pathos, terror and abject bastardism while still making you root for him. Once it starts, it never stops being scary, and the creature design is just fantastic. Bonus points for being set in Salem (albeit for no apparent reason).

Score: πŸŽƒπŸŽƒπŸŽƒπŸŽƒπŸŽƒ

Episode 3: The Autopsy

Directed by David Prior, this episode stars F Murray Abraham as a coroner who carries out the titular autopsy on a group of miners after a mysterious explosion. Hailed in some articles as the scariest of the bunch, it didn’t quite sit that way with me. I felt that the ending was too telegraphed and it took some time getting started, and in a way I didn’t quite expect (pace-breaking backstory upon pace-breaking backstory). I also found the antagonist too cheesy in a modern way when set against Abraham’s (characteristically brilliant) measured performance and the episode’s clearly vintage setting. Still, I thought it had a richly eerie atmosphere, some grisly visuals and a couple of good scares.

Score: πŸŽƒπŸŽƒπŸŽƒ

That’s it for this year. We’ll do this again in October 2023!

31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 30: Old People [2022]

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Netflix sucked me into this by saying it was from the producers of the pretty good Blood Red Sky. What a fool I was.

The impressively titled Old People, directed by Andy Fetscher, follows an extended/split family (split by divorce) coming together to the German countryside (filmed in Poland) to celebrate a wedding in which the outsider is a person of colour who gets maybe two lines total before being savagely murdered by an old white dude.

I’m sure there’s nothing to that subtext. Or the fact that “anyone who breaks up a family is cursed” before someone blames the divorced woman for apparently causing this epidemic of murderous ancients. Or the creepy religious overtones or any of the other weird old-fashioned blobs of sexism that keep raining on the film like the spores in every scene (are spores the new lens flare?).

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31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 29: Barbarian [2022]

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Last night was another film I’d watched after absorbing the built-up hype around how my viewing experience was supposed to go. And it’s my fault for buying into that, because I think I expected a slightly different film than what I got.

Barbarian, written and directed by Zach Cregger, follows Tess (Georgina Campbell), a young woman who comes to Detroit for a job interview. When she shows up at the Airbnb she’s booked, she’s astonished to find someone else staying there (Bill SkarsgΓ₯rd). This is all I should say about the plot. I’d rather anyone reading this go in as blindly as I did.

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31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 28: The Vampire Bat [1933]

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I shouldn’t let a year slip by without including at least one classic (read: B&W or silent) horror. But for the life of me I need to watch it during the day – though not for the reason you might think. It’s because the copy that exists (at least on YouTube but presumably it’s among the best) has the sound mixed in such a way that the dialogue is whisper-quiet but the screams are astronomically loud. So, at 2am, I sort of had to watch this like it was a silent film. My fault for showing my friends the brilliant Little Monsters at midnight my time and not having yet seen a fresh film for that night.

The Vampire Bat, directed by Frank R. Strayer, concerns a small European village (populated by Americans with those vintage semi-English Frasier accents) which suffers an attack. The locals become convinced the perpetrator is a vampire since they’ve apparently already had a brush with this before (??), and suspect, naturally, the town’s loner, who also happens to be developmentally challenged, solely because he is a bit weird and thinks that bats are cute. Fuck you, townspeople. That’s all of us! Even post-covid!

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31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 27: Southbound [2015]

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Every year I try to fit an anthology film onto my horror-thon, and this year is no different. But I think it might be the best horror anthology I’ve ever watched, for multiple reasons.

Southbound, a series of five segments directed by Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner and Patrick Horvath, all takes place along a spooky stretch of an American highway. I love the short-form format as, since it’s so unpredictable, we’re not wedded to such distinct establishments and journeys of primary and supporting characters. Anything’s possible! It’s also exactly why I think short films can be scarier – the set-ups, the tension and the climaxes are all thrown at you in quick succession so there’s very little room to breathe, and what I think sets this apart from the others is that one segment follows on from the next – and part of the fun involved in watching this movie is wondering how it’s going to make that transition.

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31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 26: Chopping Mall [1986]

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I know this is a cult favourite, but I couldn’t get past how overstuffed it was of all of the bad parts of ’80s cliche: casual racism, oversexualising teenagers (I can’t tell if it’s better that they’re clearly played by 40-year-olds so that the actors aren’t underage, or if by having them played by adults it’s normalising sexualising teenagers – who are children, by the way), and obvious, groan-worthy sexism.

Not like the rest of Chopping Mall, ‘directed’ by Jim Wynorksi, is much better. The plot revolves around a group of teenage stereotypes who stay behind at the mall after their jobs close for the day in order to have a pseudo orgy in between gulping terrible lines of dialogue like “fuck the fuschia, it’s Friday”. Unfortunately for them, their Friday night plans are interrupted when a trio of clearly faulty security guard robots start terrorising them.

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31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 25: When I Consume You [2021]

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I’m always wary about movies that deal with mental health issues, especially horror movies. Because, unfortunately, they write themselves into a corner and then cop out by having the main character sacrifice themselves to eliminate the anthropomorphised mental illness – i.e., killing themselves. As someone who has struggles with OCD, anxiety and depression, this is a thoroughly irresponsible message to keep pushing and does a disservice to the stories these films could be telling.

That said, I can’t say either way which route this film takes without spoiling it, but I can say that the journey to get there mostly errs on the side of respect when it comes to things like drug abuse, alcoholism, antidepressant use and general mental health, but I do think that the slightly shallow non-side-taking it does do is too sofly-softly for a story whose emotional hook rests on such delicate, bittersweet and realistic subject matter. Which is a shame.

Anyway, the film When I Consume You, written, directed and photographed by Perry Blackshear, follows a pair of siblings (Libby Ewing and Evan Dumouchel) who work together to fight the sister’s stalker. A fairly simple plot, and it does feel at times that the proceedings just amble from scene to scene in a very one-note way, which actually makes the pace drag a bit despite its brisk 80-odd-minute runtime.

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31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 24: Host [2020]

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I saw this film after too much hype had passed and it’s my own damn fault. I seem to have a complicated relationship with found footage in that I almost roll my eyes at its cheap tricks – mainly of it being immersive by design (and seemingly effortlessly so, like they’re not even trying, but actually a ton of work goes into that), but then after I watch a found footage movie I end up liking almost all of them because I was both enthralled by the story and genuinely scared by the scares (which hardly ever happens these days).

Host, directed by Rob Savage, garnered mountains of buzz owing to the fact that it was shot during the 2020 covid-19 lockdowns and takes place entirely over a Zoom call. It’s already got the aforementioned immersive nature thanks to it being found footage, but over a year in which everyone and their mum got together over Zoom – for interviews, work, socialising, even Christmas and wedding celebrations – that this makes it that much more terrifying when set against the real-life horror of the early days of the (still awful) global pandemic.

The film follows a group of friends who, possibly out of pure lockdown boredom, conduct a sΓ©ance with a medium. But, as is usually the case in this genre, something starts to feel a bit off and the group starts to fear that they’re unleashed something malevolent.

[SPOILER about what doesn’t happen in the end – but thereby ruling it out for you – after the jump]

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31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 23: Flux Gourmet [2022]

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Even a day after I’ve seen it, I can’t tell if I like this film, or if I really recommend this film widely, or what I really thought of this film. So, I guess, a typical Peter Strickland film.

Flux Gourmet, written and directed by Strickland, follows a collective of ‘sonic caterers’ – musicians who extract obscene and extreme sounds from food/cooking/eating – as they take up an artistic residency at an estate. Creative differences, power struggles and infighting commence, all documented by a semi-unwilling writer who is struggling with gastrointestinal problems.

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