Tag Archives: horror movies

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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Halloween Monday Movie Marathon (And Beer)

Two things have converged to create what will be my finest blog moment:

1.I have Monday off from work.

2. I just got back from Rock and Shock.’

After the convention yesterday, I was struck hard by the desire to really get some Halloween celebrating in. I knew that I had to do something and something big in order to truly express my love for this holiday. And I also knew I had to do it fast. If I waited, the spirit could leave me and I would have done nothing and we would be well on our way to Thanksgiving.

So I hatched a plan. There are two things I do every year around October: Pumpkin beer reviews and horror movie reviews. So far, I’ve only done one beer review and that was back in September.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t reviewed any movies in months.

Now, I’m going to kill two birds with one stone:

It’s the Halloween Monday Movie Marathon! And beer!

I’m going to watch three, low-budget, independently made horror movies and, AT THE SAME TIME, drink three pumpkin ales.

I’ll pair a beer with each movie and I’ll post the reviews soon as the credits start rolling. Two of the beers are ones I’ve reviewed in the past and I’m going to be revisiting them. The third is brand new and never before been tried. I’ll also not have seen any of the movies I’m about to see, but one of them I just bought yesterday from the very people who made it. Excitement.

I’ll be posting each review once the credits roll, so come back throughout the day for more content in one day than there has been all month!

I’ll also be updating my twitter throughout the day. That’s right: I’m live blogging.

So, if you’re home today, like me, and you want some Halloween cheer, like me, then sit back and relax as I watch movies, eat cold cut sandwiches and enjoy pumpkin ales.

-D-

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Halloween Horror Movies

We all have our ways of celebrating Halloween. If you’re still in elementary school, you put on a costume and beg strangers for candy. If you’re in college, you use Halloween as an excuse to get blitzed. If you’re my age, you sit at home and quietly contemplate opening an Ameritrade account before deciding that adulthood can wait another year and watching a scary movie instead.

Every year, I try and watch a few new horror movies, but there are a few that I must watch, that I need to watch or the season just doesn’t feel right. It’s like not carving a Jack O’ Lantern or not eating a hundred of those tiny fun sized candy bars; it’s part of the tradition and they must be watched.

So, in no particular order, here are five of the movies that I have to see before November 1:

(All images willfully stolen from IMDB.com)

The Thing

The Thing (1982) Poster

I’m not talking about the original that came out in 1951 and starred James Arness as a killer vegetable and I’m not talking about the sub-par prequel that I’m not even going to waste any more words on; I’m talking about John Carpenter’s The Thing with Kurt Russel, Keith David and goddamn Wilfred Brimley.

The Thing, if you didn’t know, is about scientists messing with something buried in the Antarctic and unleashing a potentially world devastating creature from its icy prison. The thing can imitate anyone and it begins to kill and replace the scientists one by one. What follows is ninety minutes of claustrophobic, paranoiac horror with some truly creepy and intense special effects that rival the effects of its predecessor twenty years later.

It’s a movie I can watch over and over again, trying to figure out who is who and when they’ve been replaced by the thing from another world. Great piece of sci-fi horror and one whose horror and striking visuals have withstood the test of time.

Next up, another cinema classic:

Friday the 13th, Part III

Friday the 13th Part III (1982) Poster

I’m a sucker for the Friday the 13th movies. I don’t know why and I’ve given up trying to explain to people why I like such indefensibly horrible movies. They have no redeeming quality except that they’re entertaining.

I learned long ago that I can’t watch all of them in one month without risking irreparable damage to key parts of my brain, so I narrow my selection to a few of my favorites. While I really enjoy Parts IV, VI and X, Part III will always be my favorite. It’s the movie where Jason gets his hockey mask. It has biker gangs, pot smoking hippies and the grungiest corner store owners on the planet: all of whom are cheerfully dispatched by a lunatic with a machete.

My favorite part about this movie, the thing that pushes it right over the edge into hilariously bad territory, is that it was originally released in 3D, leading to plenty of painfully obvious attempts to make use of the technology with harpoons and snakes launching themselves right at the camera on clearly visible wires.

If you watch only one Friday the 13th movie this season, make it this one. Or Jason X.

Next:

An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London (1981) Poster

An American Werewolf in London is the best werewolf movie ever made. That’s not the hyperbolic exultation of a fan, it’s just the truth. No werewolf movie has ever topped this one in terms of story, effects, writing or acting. It’s as much a black comedy as it is a horror movie and has genuinely funny moments threaded throughout.

It takes the werewolf legend and adds its own spin to the story that has been told over and over again. Plus, it has the best soundtrack out of any horror movie with every song having something to do with the moon.

I will say that if you want a different werewolf movie of equal caliber, you could also check out Ginger Snaps, which is equally creative and equally, bleakly funny.

Oh quick warning: stay the hell away from the sequel. It is inexcusably bad and not in a fun way.

Speaking of dark comedies:

Scream

Scream (1996) Poster

Scream is the creation of Wes Craven, one of the people responsible for the slasher genre and the way it took off big in the 80’s. He took everything he knew about the genre and turned it on its ear. He pulled back the curtain and gleefully pointed out, in the movie itself, the numerous cliches that plague every slasher genre.

Scream was meta before meta was a thing. It’s a self referential, witty take on the genre and also extremely brutal, violent and is a very pointed attack against just how predictable horror movies had become.

For fans of slasher movies, Scream is something you’ve already seen it or you damn well should have.

Which leads me to:

Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012) Poster

Cabin in the Woods is to all horror movies what Scream is to slasher movies. Cabin lays bare the mechanics behind those movies that we love to watch and love to let scare us. It examines the roles of myths and legends and fear. It’s one of those films about filmmakers, but it’s slyly so and subtly so. This is the movie for horror movie fans. It references different genres, specific movies, props and tropes.

It’s entertaining and hilarious and filled with well acted and quirky characters, which is a rarity in any horror movie. This is a loving tribute to the genre and the best possible way to finish out the season. If you love horror, watch this.

Those are just five of the movies I want (need) to watch and this is, by no means, a comprehensive list. There are plenty of others (Trick ‘r Treat, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween) that just didn’t make the list because I capped it at five.What do you watch to get in the mood for Halloween?

-D-

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31 Days of Spoooktacular: Happy Halloween

I’m drinking a beer called Vampire Slayer (brewed by Clown Shoes). This isn’t a review, I’m just letting you know that I have a dark, flavor rich beer and you should get some yourself.

No, really I’m just here to say, Happy Halloween. We’ve spent a lot of time together, you and I and it’s been a hell of a ride. There were conventions and philosophizing on fear and beer and apple picking and more philosophizing. And, now, it’s drawing to a close. Soon, people will be slapping pictures of hand-turkeys on the walls and throwing cornucopias everywhere and eating way too much food. The time of reveling in horror and monsters and goblins and scary things is drawing to a close.

I’m a little sad, but mostly relieved. I can talk about other things now. I can review beers that don’t taste like pumpkins. I can watch movies that aren’t just boobs, blood and bad guys. I can pontificate on politics or work or Sprint’s terrible service.

But, just one more time, I’m going to watch a horror movie, drink a Halloween themed-beer  and relax for the last night before….

 

 

NANOWRIMO.

 

See you tomorrow.

And have a Happy Halloween!

-D-

 

PS If you need some spooky fun, check this out. It’s an audio dramatization of my story, The Song and Dance Man. Thumbs up.

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31 Days of Spoooktacular: The Remade

Between 2007 and 2010, all three of the major slasher icons were featured in reboots of the old movies. Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers stalked the silver screen again in “fresh” “re-imaginings” of the old movies. Halloween came first, followed shortly by Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The idea that this was even a profitable idea probably came from the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, which grossed over $107 million dollars worldwide. And that’s in 2003 dollars!

Of the three remakes, Halloween is the only one that can be even remotely be called “good”, and I use that term loosely. It’s still a slasher movie; it’s extremely violent, has a fairly simple plot and the character development of water-logged cardboard. BUT, even though it’s the one remake that most closely followed the plot of its predecessor, it still brought a lot of new material and ideas to the table that helped to enhance, rather than detract, from the story of the character (the childhood of Michael Myers being the most notable addition). It has a lot of nice touches sprinkled throughout and has some of the best kid actors I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. In fact, the acting across the board is good, which is something you learn not to expect in a slasher movie. And, this is important here, it has some truly creepy moments.

Which cannot really be said of Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street. They were boring, did nothing to add anything new or original to the characters, except for stuff you really didn’t want added (Jason the pot farmer! Freddy the goofy man-child pedophile gardener!). They could never have been made and the world would never have noticed the difference. And it’s telling that while Halloween managed to do well enough to warrant a (truly terrible) sequel, the same cannot be said of the other two, though it’s only a matter of time. 

The problem with any remake or sequel, and this is more true for the horror genre than others, is that you will never be surprised or shocked. You will never be scared. You’ve seen this monster’s moves and you know what can kill it and you know how things will proceed. They never change a franchise enough to make it interesting, because if they do they risk losing money and fan ire (see Halloween III: Season of the Witch or Friday the 13th: A New Beginning).

They remake and sequel until the money runs out, but long before then, the scares have dried up. It’s detrimental to the genre and just drives away the fans in droves to try new things like Japanese horror and giallo.

Let them die, so we can be scared again.

-D-

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