Tag Archives: Horror Movie Primer

Horror Movie Primer: Zombies

Movie zombies haven’t always been what they are now: rotting corpses who eat the living.

Before George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, cinematic zombies were more steeped in their original voodoo lore. They were the result of witchcraft and bad juju, not viruses and teethmarks. If you really want to see zombies as they were before The Change, check out White Zombie, starring Bela Lugosi, where a witch doctor holds a young woman using magic and the like.

After Romero, cannibalistic undead were all over the place. His original series, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead are perhaps the most influential on the genre, with Dawn of the Dead being widely regarded as the best zombie movie of all time.

Once zombies were considered profitable in the box office, they began to show up everywhere, with cheap foreign knock-offs and spoofs abounding. Fulci’s Zombie, the only zombie movie to depict a zombie fighting a shark, even went so far to imply that it was a sequel to Dawn of the Dead. The Return of the Living Dead, an over-the-top splatter comedy from the 1980’s, introduced the notion that zombies are really after our brains.

Zombies have made a resurgence in recent years. Romero is cranking them out still, with sub-par offerings like Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead. Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead , is nothing special, but with its fast zombies introduces a new freaky element and is definitely worth watching.

Shaun of the Dead, a loving spoof of the entire zombie genre, is definitely something you should check out, though maybe after you’ve watched a few of the classics first, if only so you can get all the jokes.

Lastly there are the movies that aren’t technically zombie movies (instead of the undead, it’s just crazed, infected people), but they have the same spirit, so what the hell. 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later are great, post apocalyptic flicks, with the former being more of a tense survival picture and the latter being more an extremely tense action movie. Zombieland is also, technically, not a “true” zombie movie, but only purists would think to complain about that. It’s a dark and grim comedy with limbs a-flyin.

Dylan Charles

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Horror Movie Primer: Ghosts

Movies about ghosts, spirits and the like can really be separated into two categories: Haunted Houses and Everything Else.

I’m not the biggest fan of haunted house movies. If one’s house is haunted, one simply moves to a new house. Problem solved and there’s no reason to have fifteen movies based on one goddamn house.

Still, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Poltergeist is a creepy and funny movie, directed by Tobe Hooper (director of Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and produced by Stephen Spielberg, it’s got a good pedigree and it’s a good choice for those who scare easy.

The Changeling is another classic, starring George C. Scott, though not one of my personal favorites. A bit too slow and draggy for my tastes. Haunted house movies are almost always slow to build up the tension, which might be good for some folks.

Moving on from the haunted house, your options are far more varied and much more interesting. For your comedic needs, there’s the obvious choices of Ghost Busters and Beetle Juice. There’s also Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners which you need to check out if you haven’t already. Michael J. Fox plays a conman who pretends to exorcise ghosts from houses, except he’s the one who put the ghosts there. Creepy and funny, it’s Peter Jackson while he was still in his horror period and not making movies about little people with hairy feet.

For something scarier, you can always go for recent entries like The Sixth Sense and Paranormal Activity. The Japanese have also been importing their supernatural horrors for the last fifteen years now with movies like The Ring (Ringu), The Grudge (Ju-On) and Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara) with varying degrees of success. My personal favorite bit of East Asian horror is Shutter. It’s a combination of a mystery and a supernatural thriller with a slow build at a pace that never lags. And the payoff was actually creepy and unsettling.

And that’s the best I can do with ghost movies, since ghosts don’t scare me so much.

Next up will be something I care more about.

Something….dead and shambling.

Dylan Charles

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Horror Movie Primer: Monsters

For the uninitiated, finding the proper horror movie can be a difficult and daunting task. You’re feeling a dire need to get into a Halloween mood, but you don’t know which movie to get and your weird friend that watched too many horror movies and who talked about them way too much went crazy and is now in the local asylum.

Luckily I can be your weird friend this season. I’ll be cobbling together a couple of primers for those of you that don’t know any better and are thinking about renting the latest Saw movie as a way of getting your scare on. The first up in the series will be Monster Flicks.

Monsters were a lot more popular in the ’40s and ’50s, but they’ll still pop up now and then. With monster flicks, you’ve got your unnaturally giant giants (Them!, Beginning of the End, King Kong), you’ve got aliens (Alien, The Blob, The Crawling Eye), you’ve got your swarms (The Birds, Piranha, Bats) and you’ve got your werewolves (Wolfman, An American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps).

Monster movies are usually the more special effects intensive of the horror movies, which is problematical. For a movie to be scary, it really needs to avoid reminding the audience every five seconds that it’s a movie. And with monster movies, that’s sometimes unavoidable.

If you scare easy, you’re better off with the earlier monster movies. The ones from the 1950’s where a group of teenagers find a sinister menace and they try to alert the police but the sheriff doesn’t believe them because they’re just a bunch of kids.

Or you can start the old Universal Monster movies, like The Wolfman, Frankenstein and Dracula. These are movies that heavily informed pop culture about these monsters. When someone thinks of Dracula or Frankenstein, they’re thinking of the old Universal versions. Starting there is the best way to start your horror movie education.

The old 1950’s aliens are either incredibly goofy or classics or both. The Blob features a giant…blob that menaces a small town. There’s the slightly more disturbing aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, who imitate people perfectly. For that one, you might be better going with the 1970’s remake.

If you’re of sterner stuff, you’re going to want to move up a few decades. For your alien needs, you can do worse than watch Alien and Aliens. There’s also John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is a great, gory movie that’s filled to the brim with tense paranoia and awesome effects. If you want dark comedy served up with your aliens, you need to check out Slither.

The werewolf genre is one that is absolutely filled with complete shit. Start with The Wolfman or An American Werewolf in London. Then check out Ginger Snaps, an independent Canadian offering that’s a little grimmer and creepier than its predecessors. There’s also The Howling, an early 1980’s offering that’s creepy and effective.

And so ends a very basic introduction to the monster sub-genre. If you have any suggestions of your own, be sure to post them in the comments section. I’ll be doing more of these entries, especially as we get closer to Halloween. Because, damn it, you need to watch at least ONE horror movie during the Halloween season.

Dylan Charles

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