Monthly Archives: October 2012

October Horror – Two Favorites

So here it finally is, Halloween 2012. I’ve had a lot of fun watching horrors this month, and tomorrow (or thereabouts) I’ll give you a rundown on what new horrors I discovered and recommend. But this post is about two horror favorites of mine. I never get tired of watching either one of them. They are true classics.

Halloween

Halloween

My favorite Halloween movie is, appropriately enough, John Carpenter’s 1978 “Halloween.” There’s a basic and clear-cut brutality to this film. Carpenter famously used a William Shatner Star Trek mask for the evil and crazy knife-happy killer. The mask is painted white, and with this simple mask the killer becomes faceless and, symbolically, all the more difficult to kill.  Jamie Lee Curtis makes us care about her young babysitter character, who’s just trying to get good grades in school and make sure that the kids she’s supposed to take care of are safe. And I love the music – to me, it’s exactly what a horror soundtrack should be.  

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead

On the other hand, my favorite horror movie is George A. Romero’s 1968 “Night of the Living Dead.” The film’s grainy black and white texture only seems to heighten the horror of all the blood and gore that the zombies eagerly eat. From the opening sequence of a brother frightening his sister in a graveyard and then becoming a victim himself, to the locked-up house where different untrusting people must band together to survive, “Living Dead” is fast-paced and gore-filled. The racial subtext only underscores how in the end, no matter how many zombies there are, other people are usually the real enemy.

Of course I have many other horror favorites, but those will have to wait until next year. I’d love to hear your favorites too!

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October Horror – The Humor of It All

I’m running through my favorite horror films of the past decade or so, in honor of October and Halloween. These next few movies are humorous takes on the horrific, and I love all of them.

Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein

“Young Frankenstein” is one of my favorite movies, period, and certainly the funniest horror-oriented film I know. Way back in 1974 Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder (with credit given to Mary Shelley as well) co-wrote this comedic gem. Wilder stars as FRE-derick Franken-steen, with a stellar cast including Madeline Kahn as his fiance, Teri Garr as his assistant (“roll-roll-roll in de hay”), Marty Feldman as I-gor, Peter Boyle as the Creature, and Cloris Leachman as Frau BLUCH-er (neeeiiiigh!). The combination of Shelley’s classic Frankenstein tale with Brooks’ and Wilder’s jokes, riffing on everything from Igor’s moving hump to the perils of the hidden bookcase to the Creature’s hidden assets, crack me up everytime. If you’ve never seen this incredibly funny movie, no matter whether you’re a horror fan or not, you really owe it to yourself to see it (but of course if you’re familiar with the Frankenstein story, you’re going to die laughing even more…).

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas

1994’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is, of course, as much about Christmas (arguably) as Halloween. But the dementedly delightful denizens of Halloweentown certainly are one of many reasons to check this film out in October, along with the star, Jack Skellington (dually voiced by Chris Sarandon and Danny Elfman), and the songs celebrating Halloween and the joys of co-opting Christmas and turning it into another creepy (!) holiday.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

Finally we have “Shaun of the Dead,” which came out in 2004. Co-written and starring Simon Pegg, as well as Nick Frost as his best pal (and drinking buddy), “Shaun” is both a hilarious and, at times, ghoulish ride as Shaun and his friends battle to make it through a zombie invasion. If you’ve never thought of utilizing LP’s as a weapon against zombies or holing up in your local pub to weather a zombie invasion, then you simply must see this movie! Seriously, this film is beyond hilarious, but it isn’t afraid to be serious about the consequences of zombie attacks either. This shifting tone was surely difficult to pull off, but Pegg and co. make it work.

Next up – some of my favorite horror classics that never seem to lose their charm…

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October Horror – The Supernatural

I’m running through my favorite horror films of the past decade or so, in honor of October and Halloween. These next two movies both deal with childhood, albeit in very different ways.

House of the Devil

House of the Devil

In 2009 writer/director Ti West came out with “The House of the Devil.” Samantha, a college student, takes an unusual babysitting gig because she needs rental money. It just so happens that this job coincides with a lunar eclipse. As the evening goes on, Samantha realizes that perhaps she’s made a mistake. Set in the ’80’s, this film starts out slow and creepy, then explodes in a bizarre finish involving a satanic ritual.

The Ring

The Ring

A horror movie that managed to do very well at the box office in 2002, “The Ring” was directed by Gore Verbinski. This is a rare instance where I prefer the remake over the Japanese original. The story of a cursed VHS tape involves the journalist Rachel, who races to discover the truth about the tape before her own son potentially falls victim to the curse. One of the strengths of this movie is how effectively the filmmakers created subtly disturbing imagery on the tape itself. Then, of course, there’s the matter of the girl climbing out of the TV screen. Can evil always be defeated, or do we need to compromise sometimes in order to survive?

Next up – some levity is injected…

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October Horror – Child Issues

I’m running through my favorite horror films of the past decade or so, in honor of October and Halloween. These next two movies both deal with childhood, albeit in very different ways.

The Abandoned

The Abandoned

“The Abandoned,” which came out in 2006, was directed and co-written by Nacho Cerdà and filmed in Bulgaria. Marie, who lives in America, is told that she has been left a farm in Russia. She travels to see the abandoned house and meets a stranger there, Nicolai, who tells her that he is her twin brother. Once there, both are trapped in the house and are haunted by creepy doppelgangers. This is an incredibly chilling tale that circles back to the early childhood of both protagonists. The story touches on the question of destiny – can we change our fate, or are we destined to only follow one path in our lives?

Eden Lake

Eden Lake

In 2008, the English film “Eden Lake” was released. Written and directed by James Watkins, the movie is notable for starring Michael Fassbender, who would go on to star in movies such as “Shame” and “Prometheus.” In “Eden Lake,” schoolteacher Jenny and her boyfriend Steve are spending a romantic weekend by a remote lake surrounded by woods. A group of children interrupt their solitude, and when they become obnoxious, Steve reprimands them. Events escalate until the couple are attacked, and Jenny must run for help. This movie explores some different issues, such as group-think and the corrosive effect of violence. How would we respond if threatened? The answer may surprise.

Next up – supernatural goings-on…

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October Horror – Women Who Surprise You

I’m running through my favorite horror films of the past decade or so, in honor of October and Halloween. There’s more than a fair share of horror movies where the females only seem to exist to scream and wail and run aimlessly away from the villain (when they’re not foolishly investigating that dark basement). But not these movies – oh no…

The Descent

The Descent

In “The Descent,” a 2005 movie from English writer/director Neil Marshall, a group of female friends set out on an annual spelunking trip. One year earlier, one of these friends, Sarah, lost her husband and daughter in a car accident. She’s still lost in her grief, and her friends hope that maybe the trip will help her. When they get to the cave, Juno reveals that it’s an unknown cave system, and she very much wants to be the first to explore it. Despite some of the women’s trepidations, they decide to go ahead. And then they discover that they’re not alone in those caves – blind creatures who like how humans taste are in there too. “The Descent” is primarily the story of Sarah and what she must do to survive, but all of the women in this film are strong characters. The bonding and betrayal between the different women are what truly make this movie stand out.

Inside

Inside

“Inside” is a horrific gem that came out in 2007 from French directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. Here again (!) the main character Sarah has lost her husband in a car accident (no children though). She’s pregnant, and it’s Christmas Eve. Sarah has settled in for a quiet evening when a stranger knocks on her door, asking to use the phone. When Sarah refuses, the woman attempts to persuade Sarah to let her in. Sarah is not convinced, and calls the police. What ensues as the night goes on is a savage battle that only becomes more and more intense as this unsettling tale unfolds. Showcasing the attack on a pregnant woman is, of course, a taboo that very few (if any other) movies have attempted to portray. And this disturbing movie doesn’t stint on the violence. Both actresses give incredible performances, including Beatrice Dalle as the unhinged attacker.

The Woman

The Woman

Finally, I’m including a movie that I just saw a couple of days ago, “The Woman.” This film was released in 2011 and directed by Lucky McKee, the director behind “May.” “The Woman” deals with a family who seems normal, but is actually anything but. Under the father’s genial demeanor is a violent and demanding tyrant, and his son is learning fast. The mother is a hollow shell and the older daughter is very sad about…something. The youngest daughter is the only genuine ray of light in this family. When the father foolishly decides to capture and bring back a feral woman he found in the woods, none of them will ever be the same. Pollyanna McIntosh knocks it out of the park as the feral Woman – her eyes almost glow in the dark. The gender politics here are not subtle by any means, but it’s an interesting (and disturbing) ride.

Next up – it’s a grab bag, folks…

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October Horror – Zombies of a Different Stripe

I’m running through my favorite horror films of the past decade or so, in honor of October and Halloween. These next two films are both zombie-related, though that word as such does not come up.

28 Days Later

28 Days Later

In 2002 director Danny Boyle gave us “28 Days Later.” Danny Boyle is, of course, the well-respected director of award-winning films such as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours,” as well as “Trainspotting,” “Shallow Grave,” and “Sunshine.” Cillian Murphy is Jim, a young man who wakes up in a hospital and discovers a very different world than the one before his accident. A group of animal rights activists unwittingly let a monkey infected with a new and exciting virus escape, and that infection spread frighteningly fast among humans. The infection happens fast once the victim is bitten, and these “zombies” move more quickly than Romero’s. But the real twist of the knife in this film is the violence inflicted by humans on each other. There’s a biting (ha-ha) subtext regarding the military, and performances by Naomie Harris and Christopher Eccleston, as well as Murphy, are stellar.

[Rec]

[Rec]

In 2007 the Spanish film “[Rec]” came out. In “[Rec],” Angela is a reporter profiling a fire station. She goes on a ride with some of the crew, as well as her trusty cameraman, to an apartment building. It soon becomes clear that people in the building are infected with…something. And then the entire building is sealed off – they’re being quarantined. The nature of this infection isn’t fully explained – you’ll need to see “[Rec] 2” for that – but this is a very smart movie. Scary too.

Next up – the weaker sex??

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October Horror – Slashers and Slayers

I’m running through my favorite horror films of the past decade or so, in honor of October and Halloween. These next two films both involve psychotic killers, but they couldn’t be more different.

American Psycho

American Psycho

“American Psycho,” directed by Mary Harron, came out in 2000. This film is, of course, based on the notorious Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name. The star of this movie is Christian Bale, who never fails to sculpt his body for a role (have you seen “The Machinist”?). Beyond the physical, of course, Bale is a great actor, and he thoroughly chomps the scenery in this movie. Bale is Patrick Bateman, a man who has it all – a great job on Wall Street, money coming out of his ears, and a beautiful fiancée. And yet, when business rivals or prostitutes stop by, he just can’t help putting on a little Huey Lewis and the News, dancing about a bit, and then lethally swinging a golf club at his prey. Set in 1987, this movie is not only a great horror film, it’s a biting commentary on the excesses of the ‘80’s. There’s also a passel of recognizable actors in this – Justin Theroux, Reese Witherspoon, Chloe Sevigny, and Jared Leto, among others.

Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek

For a completely different change of pace, there’s “Wolf Creek,” an Australian film that came out in 2005. Written and directed by Greg Mclean, this movie follows three young folks who set out to hike through Wolf Creek National Park in the Australian Outback. When they have some car trouble, a local helps them out…and you can probably guess what happens after that. The local bushman turned killer is played by John Jarratt, and he is truly menacing – all the more so for seeming such a folksy, helpful guy in the beginning. The Outback landscape is both beautiful and desolate. When these hikers need help, there’s nowhere to turn. The plot of this movie is also stellar – you probably won’t be able to predict how it turns.

Next time, two takes on the latest trend du jour: zombies…

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