Category Archives: Horror: Movies, Books, Stories and More

The Science-fication of Horror

In the days of olde, let’s say the 1940’s and back, horror movie monsters were the stuff of legends and myth. They were the vampires and werewolves of Eastern Europe. They were the mummies of Ancient Egypt. They were the primitive beasts from the Pleistocene Era. They were the ghosts and ghouls from Victorian castles.

With few exceptions, these beasts came lurking out from the shadows of superstition. They were magical or gypsy curses or hell-borne. Their reason for being was shrouded in the darkness of antiquity.

There are exceptions, of course. There are your Doctor Frankensteins and your Doctor Griffins and your Dr. Jekylls. But they are not so common and the science they practice is only step removed from wizardry and alchemy.

But then came the Atomic Bomb and people realized, suddenly and violently, that science could result in far more potent horrors than one ever found in the works of Stoker, Shelley or Wells.

The 50’s are plagued with atomic horrors, beasts irradiated and made large, deformed and horrific and bent on the destruction of mankind. They were garden variety pests that could chow down on sky scrapers. They were men and women blessed by radioactive stature. They stood tall and large and obscene and loomed like mushroom clouds over the landscape.

At the same time, the Space Race was getting started in earnest and people looked to the skies and saw the potential for menace. Whether space vegetables (either in the form of  pods or James Arness) or giant, crawling eyes or small, crawling hands, we saw invaders from the stars with the same hellish intents as our communist neighbors.

The gothic and the ghastly fell away to make way for horrors created by what Americans saw every day in the paper. Our fears are always defined by the larger pop culture and it rarely takes much to see what inspires our nightmares.

As we head into the late 60’s and 70’s, serial killers dominate the papers and we get Psycho, Black Christmas, and Halloween.

More and more, our fictional fears become more grounded in reality. We are reduced to large men with sharp knives. No matter how colorful or indestructible they are, they are still just glam rock versions of Bundy, Manson and Dahmer.

And that began a slow change within the traditional horrors and it can be seen in the zombie genre most clearly. Before Romero, zombies were voodoo and that was that. Witch doctors cast spells and lo, there came the walking dead.

But in The Night of the Living Dead, there is a passing reference to a comet and the walking dead, albeit in a very slight and subtle manner, are given a scientific reason for their improbable existence. Further, the “zed word” is never mentioned in the movie. The zombies are distanced from their religious roots, from folklore and from legend. As the “of the Living Dead” series progresses, Romero dissects them a little bit more each time. They are subjected to medical experiments and researched and psychoanalyzed.

And that’s what begins to happen to all of the old movie monsterss. Take any movie script involving vampires  or werewolves and you can do a find and replace for “magic” with “virus” and boom, you have the modern horror movie. It’s not a curse, it’s a disease.  It’s not magical, it’s biological. The modern audience does not accept magic as the obvious explanation. The audience needs explanation and dissection and vivisection. There needs to be analysis and intervention.

In all of this, there is a very key point: there is a need to understand the monster so that it can be destroyed.

Horror is our release valve for the internal pressures built up from fear and anxiety and worry. There are a thousand different anxieties that we face day to day and we have very little control over most of them. The horror fictions are only an effective release when we have a way to deal with the monsters they present.

A monster borne of magic is less effective as a release valve, when we don’t believe in magic in any form and cannot relate to the monster on any level, either as a believable threat or confrontable menace. As Americans become more secular, the idea of a monster that can be turned aside by a cross becomes less palatable. But a monster that can be turned aside by an injection or by a prescription becomes that needed release.

Horror, to be effective and relevant, is always adapting. It shapes our fears into beasts that can be killed. It turns car accidents and cancers and school shootings into fanged and fearsome dragons that can be slayed with the correct incantation and the right weapon.

As time passes and we grow more knowledgeable as a society, these dragons must adapt to be more sophisticated and more resilient and reflect our knowledge. The tools to defeat them grow increasingly more complex in response.

As time goes on, it will be more difficult for horror to function as an effective means for release. As knowledge and information become more accessible, our awareness will make it less possible to escape and to enjoy the fictions we create to avoid the painful truths of reality. At that point, fiction will stop being a bastion against reality and humanity will need to confront what it needs to do to continue as a species.

-D-

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Discussing Horror: The Ten Podcast

Horror, for a large part of my life, has been very important to me. I believe that great horror movies help us deal with our every day fears, the fears that we cannot control. We cannot prevent every accident, every illness, every tragedy. Horror helps us to release that fear, helps us to relieve that stress. It presents a scare that we can deal with, that we can resolve. There is no silver bullet for Alzheimer’s, cancer, drunk drivers or insane political candidates, but scary movies give us a fiction where we can face off with our fears man-to-man and beat them.

I started a podcast with a  friend of mine, Trevor BLEEP, to discuss the best of the best, the movies that best help us to deal with our fears. This is not about the shock and awe horror like Hostel and Saw . Our podcast, The Ten Podcast, is about those movies that really do address humanity and those fears we cannot resolve otherwise.

So far, we have discussed The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Alien and we’re going to be looking at some very interesting movies in the future. So check us out on iTunes or on Libsyn and take a listen.

And if you have a movie you want us to discuss in the future, feel free to email us at thetenpodcast@gmail.com.

We’ll be seeing you.

-D-

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The Ten (Episode One): Introductions

It is only now, in this final hour, that I will reveal the great undertaking that myself and Trevor C. have shouldered. It took six months of constant and ceaseless effort. We planned, plotted and prepared for this moment. Every step we took, every move we made was toward this one point. Every calculated effort was to get us to today, this day.

The day that we released The Ten.

The Ten is the master list of the greatest horror movies ever made as determined by Trevor C. and myself. Each movie will be scrutinized. Every movie will be made to stand among its peers. Every movie must go through The Panel.

It is only after this test of fire that a movie will be allowed to join The Ten.

Join us every two weeks as we nominate a movie and then pick it apart to determine its worthiness. This week, the episode elaborates on the process and the podcast that will eventually generate The Ten.

Listen to The Ten (Episode One) Introductions and we will see you in two weeks.

-D-

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A Quick and Easy Guide on How to Hell Raise

There are a lot of horror film franchises that have let me down. Scream, Friday the Thirteenth, Nightmare on Elm Street; They have all devolved into pointless, mindless and, to be frank, stupid repetitions of the same old song and dance. There was one franchise that disappoints more than any other and that’s the Hellraiser series.

I have watched all nine movies, all the way through, and if ever there was a squandered and lost opportunity, it would be Hellraiser. While Friday the Thirteenth was always doomed to be nothing more than simple series of slashings, Hellraiser showed far more promise. For the few people who read my blog and have not seen this movie, it’s about a puzzle box that opens a gateway to a dimension of extreme please and pain. It is governed by demons/angels/crazy dudes in bondage gear called The Cenobites and they attract the truly depraved.

Over the course of the series, they managed to do a lot of things with the material. It wasn’t always the same, tired story retreaded and rewritten.  They’ve done period pieces and futuristic visions of a dark future and even a noir of sorts. But it’s always felt lackluster and done with the bare minimum of funds. There is a potential for truly interesting storytelling and creepy and frightening visuals, but after the first two films, they stop dipping so deeply in the well and rely on tried and true methods.

And then it ends up with the last two movies which were so awful that I don’t even want to talk about them. Hellraiser: Hellworld turns Pinhead into just another slasher and Hellraiser: Revelations basically remakes the first movie but with poorly written and unlikable characters, a profoundly pointless plot and a mean spirited darkness that I’m sure the screenwriter thought was edginess and grit.

It’s a series that held so much potential and you can even see where they tried to maximize that potential; but the lacked the time, the funds or the ability to make it a reality. And, by the end, they ended up being as bad and, it pains me to say this, creatively worse than Jason X.

I want a remake, but one made with Clive Barker guiding it. Maybe Guillermo del Torro directing. That’s what I want. Until then, I don’t think we’ve seen what Pinhead is truly capable of.

-D-

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Movie Review: Evil Dead (Remake)

Last night, I went to see the Evil Dead remake and I was less than impressed.

For those that don’t know, the original The Evil Dead is a horror cult classic that exists in its own realm of awesome. It is a frantic, kinetic, slapstick gore-tastic explosion of excess. The sequels that followed are less innovative, but far more fun and added more to the sub-layers of pop culture than the first. The first was a horror movie that was as much informed by the Three Stooges as it was by George Romero and drive-in horror flicks.

The remake was, in a lot of ways, going to fail before it even got out of the gate. You cannot, absolutely cannot, remake the magic that makes a cult movie a cult movie. And nor do you want to. A cult movie is popular with only a small portion of the movie-going audience, hence the name. The studio is not going to go out of their way to try and please a very cranky, persnickety cluster of fans.

So the remake was far less frantic, more reserved and more by-the-numbers, more tailored for the average Friday night ticket holder. It followed closely along in the footsteps of the original movie and every “cabin in the woods” formula movie that followed.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to consider the idea that the remake was, in a sly way, tapping into the same ideas that the first The Evil Dead did. It was violent. Ridiculously so. Almost Black Knight violent. It even made me wince once or thrice. Much in the way the first The Evil Dead reveled in the gooshy red stuff, the remake over-indulged as well, but catered to an audience that has been emotionally stunted on a steady diet of Saw and Hostel movies.

And as it progressed, Evil Dead became steadily more over the top and more absurd. At the time, when I saw duct tape routinely used as the cure-all for injuries, including, but not limited to, a severed arm, I thought that there was a very desperate or very ignorant screenwriter at play. But now, in retrospect, I think there were just screenwriters at play, trying to tread a very careful line between the goofy, over-the-top slapstick violence of every horror movie from the 80’s and the grim, ultra real, ultra gritty torture horror that has come to, disturbingly, dominate the market in the last ten years.

I hesitate to call Evil Dead a good movie, but I am willing to give it more credit than I initially gave it. If you’re a fan of the original or of 80’s horror in general (Hello Re-Aimator fans), give it a spin, keep an open mind and see it as an amalgam of the now and then.

I give it one, over-amorous tree.

-D-

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Saturday Night Movie Review: Nazis at the Center of the Earth

As I mentioned last week, I’m going to start reviewing movies that I believe are perfect to watch while drinking beer and hanging out with friends. Or, if you’re me, drinking a warm bloody mary while you’re by yourself. They’re the movies that are so bad they’re funny, over-the-top violence and acting so wooden you could build a table out of it.

All the movies I review will be readily available online, either through Netflix Instant or Amazon Prime or one of the many other (legal) streaming sites.

This week: Nazis at the Center of the Earth

Now, I have a couple of criteria when it comes to movies of this caliber. They must be delightfully, whimsically stupid. There must be plenty of opportunities where everyone can jump in and throw out a random one liner.

For example, right off the bat, the title of this movie is ripe with stupid and then the plot just keeps delivering.

We follow the tale of a group of intrepid arctic scientists who stumble across a secret, underground Nazi base: by accidentally drilling into it.They start to drill into the ice, the drill screeches to a halt and they brush an inch of snow off of a giant swastika. Because when you’re trying to get a core sample using extremely expensive equipment, you don’t test the ground in any way, shape or form to make sure you’re not drilling into solid rock or a Nazi bunker.

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As the movie progresses it turns out that the Nazis have a sinister plan (which is not surprising, given the whole “being Nazis thing”) and they kidnap the entire team, dragging them into their subterranean layer where it is revealed that they are also zombies.

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To recap: The villains in this movies are Nazi zombies that live in a underground military base under the Antarctic led by an immortal Doctor Mengele. Oh, and Jake Busey is a scientist, which is humorous in and of itself since the only other thing I’ve ever seen him play is a psychopath who eats a baseball bat in Identity. All in all, you have the perfect recipe for one of the stupidest movies to slither onto the screen since Troll 2.

But here comes the problem. About halfway through the movie, things get nasty. It gets mean spirited and unpleasant and vicious in a way that stops being funny and more makes you feel like you participated in something that you did not want to participate in. It stops being fun to watch and turns into something you’d turn off and walk away from.

Which is a shame, because this is the same movie with a terrible CGI UFO…

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…and that’s not even the stupidest thing you will come across in this movie. That would be terrible CGI robot Hitler.

But I can’t 100% recommend this movie unless you’re the kind of person that found Human Centipede funny. Otherwise, you’ll get to that middle bit and completely shut-down.

If you’re looking for something fun all the way through, avoid this. I can see too many people getting to the shower scene and reaching for the remote in a hurry.

I give this Five “Are you really trying to sell Jake Busey as a scientist?”s and Two Squinchy Gut Roilers.

I’m also a little disappointed that I misrolled two times in a row and I’ve only done this segment twice. Next week, I guarantee that I’ll find you something awesome to watch.

Guaranteed.

-D-

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Saturday Night Movie Review: Stake Land

I believe, fervently, that Saturday nights are made for watching bad movies, mainly because I’m a shut-in with the personal skills of a wounded bear who was already not too fond of people. But finding the right bad movie is difficult. You need to hit all the right notes of hilarious dialogue, wooden acting and over-the-top special effects. Sometimes you spend ten minutes flipping through the Netflix Instant selection of horror movies, think you’ve hit a winner (The Stuff) and then realize that you’ve made a terrible mistake (aside from the uncomfortable under and overtones and the wonderful casting of Michael Moriarty as a master of corporate espionage, The Stuff was dull. Insane, but dull). You have an option: turn back and spend another ten minutes browsing before clicking on Strippers versus Werewolves or just sticking it out with The Stuff.

So, in order to spare you and your loved ones the pain of watching the wrong bad movie, I offer to you my semi-weekly, most likely going to only do this twice, feature of Saturday Night Movie Review. I will scour Amazon Prime and Netflix Instant looking for the best, bad horror movie for you to enjoy. This is a service I graciously provide for free. Buy my book.

This week: Stake Land

I chose Stake Land because the poster reminded me of Zombieland and Zombieland still fills me with warm cheer whenever I think about it. There are also a few plot point similarities (post Apocalyptic America, surly vampire/zombie hunter teams up with teen to travel the countryside). The difference is that while Zombieland was an entertaining romp and hilarious, Stake Land is a giant downer. It’s Zombieland meets The Road. Vampires have overrun the country and it’s no longer safe to go out at night. Unlike in, say, Daybreakers, the vampires are not suave sophisticates, but drooling, brutal beasts that operate more on Old World Europe Vampyr rules than 19th Century Victorian Vampire rules.

StakeLand

Stake Land is not a bad movie. It’s well shot and has a great, grungy, country feel that I really dig. At times it felt a little like a western, especially in regard to the costume design and musical score: lots of fiddles and denim. There’s less of a coherent plot and more a journey of the two main characters, Martin and Mister. Mister is the bad-ass vampire slayer out of the two, if you couldn’t figure it out. They’re traveling north through the wasteland that is Vamp infested America to reach a place called New Eden which could be the best hope for our heroes to have a life that approaches normal. Or it could be a hellhole that’s out of food where the inhabitants have turned to cannibalism. It’s up in the air on that front.

They have adventures, they meet new people and one depressing episode after the other happens until we reach the end of the movie and it ends exactly like you thought it would. My only major complaint with the movie is The Brotherhood. They’re an ultra-religious movement that believes the vampires are God’s way of cleansing the Earth and, as such, anyone killing the vampires must be bad. They even go out of their way to helicopter drop vampires into surviving settlements to help purge the Earth of the unfaithful.

They’re almost cartoonishly evil and their leader is too over-the-top for a movie that’s, for the most part, relentlessly grim and surly. Stake Land does not pull punches and does not let up in its quest to make sure you’re as bummed out as you possibly can be.

By the end of Stake Land, I was feeling down, a little sad and I want to watch something with a rainbow in it.

And, in this regard, as a Saturday Night Movie, it fails. You won’t be laughing with your friends over the hilariousness of it. You will all look into yourselves and wonder at the bleakness of that world and wonder, truly wonder, at the costs you would pay if the world were to end and you were asked to make some truly difficult decisions. And then you’d grab another beer and turn on Strippers versus Werewolves.

I give it Two Cormac McCarthy Novels and The Executioner’s Song. Avoid for Saturday Night. Watch it Sunday Morning instead.

-D-

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