Tag Archives: Scream

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It’s a movie I can watch over and over again, trying to figure out who is who and when they’ve been replaced by the thing from another world.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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The Rules of Horror

Horror movies exist primarily to do one thing: scare people. And, for the most part, horror movies fail in that one goal. They shock, they gross out, they startle, but they don’t truly scare. There’s nothing scary about Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. There’s nothing scary about torture porn like Hostel and the entire Saw series.

Modern horror filmmakers seem to have forgotten the fact that these movies are supposed to terrify us, not make us roll our eyes and gag. The formulaic and tired nature of slasher movies got so bad that Wes Craven wrote Scream to lambaste the tropes he helped to create. So it’s an irony that the Scream series has become a victim to the same rote formula like every other slasher series.

And the slew of viciously violent movies like Hostel and The Human Centipede are just more fuel for the fire that horror movies as a whole are culturally bereft of value and nothing more than cheap intellectual trash.

There was a point when horror movies were actually good, not just as scary movies but as films. Psycho, The Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera (the one with Mr. Chaney); these were well-made, well-written and actually scared the audiences at the time.

But after eighty years of scary movies, filmmakers seem to think that the only way to make a relevant scary movie is to get progressively more and more shocking, graphic and violent. And yet, there have been movies released in recent years that have scared the bejesus out of people with a minimum of blood and gore. Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch Project both used similar techniques which were effective in scaring audience members. And there have been other effective thrillers that have a similar reluctance to employ the wet stuff (The Vanishing is a prime example).

So, for all those aspiring filmmakers out there, here are a list of rules that I’ve compiled based on what genuinely scares me when I watch a movie. There are only four, so bear with me here.

1. Keep it Small Keep the cast small. Keep the location small. Keep all the strange happenings located to a house, a small town, a small patch of woods. This serves multiple purposes. If you only have a few characters, then the audience has more of a chance to become invested in the characters, and you want that. The more the audience is invested, the more they’ll care when you start killing the characters off one by one.

You also run less of a chance that the audience will become desensitized. Too much violence and they shut down and tune out. Anticipation of bad things can be as effective as the actual event. Tension is important for a good scary movie.

2. Isolation This is a rule commonly employed by horror movies, which is why so many movies are set around campsites or in that house by the lake or on some deserted stretch of highway. Cut your characters out from the herd and keep them away. Facing the abyss is scary, facing the abyss with no one to help them is terrifying.

Isolate them through geography (woods, island, desert). Isolate them with their own sanity (or lack thereof). Isolate them in the middle of a crowded city (stuck elevator, basement, sewers). Just get them alone so that no one can help them.

3. Minimize suspension of disbelief There are many, many ways to break the illusion. Audiences (generally) go into a movie to be entertained and they’re willing to suspend their disbelief to do it, but you have to help them out. It’s even more important in a horror movie, because scaring someone is about creating a mood and then sustaining it. To truly scare your audience, you can’t keep providing jump scares. You have to build dread. You have to make them fear every shadow and every movement in the corner of the character’s eye. It’s no good to provide an aura of foreboding if it’s immediately ruined by a boom mike in shot or cheesy special effects or an abrasive, obvious score.

Minimize special effects. If you don’t have the technology to pull of an effect, dial it down. Jaws was more effective when the shark was in the water. The alien in Alien and Aliens was most scary when it was in the shadows. Keep your monster in the shadows. And for the love of God, don’t use digital effects to replicate blood and gunshot wounds. Corn syrup and squibs work just fine.

Subtlety is the key here. A subtle soundtrack (or none at all), a monster who stays in the dark and a bare minimum of effects work.

4. Avoid the Tropes There are certain monsters and situations that are no longer scary. Vampires and werewolves stopped being truly scary ages years ago. They’re a fixture in pop-culture, not in the darkest recesses of your audience’s imagination. While I hesitate to say there’s no way to make them scary (Let the Right One In was creepy and unsettling as sin), it will be very hard to do since the audience will be prepared.

And you don’t want the audience to be prepared. You want them to be unsettled. You want them to be on the edge, uncertain about what’s going to happen next. You do not want them to know that silver and crosses can keep the monsters at bay.

Avoid the scary haunted mansion. Avoid the invincible slasher who can only be brought down by the plucky, perky and chaste teenage girl. Avoid the those same tired ways. We all fear the unknown. That is the one thing everyone shares in common: a fear of the lurking unknown that lives in the darkness.

Surprise us. Challenge us. Demand from us our attention. Keep us always guessing. Make us dread the next frame, for the simple reason that we don’t know what’s coming.

That is how to scare the audience. That’s the way to make a truly good horror movie.

Dylan Charles

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Slashed

Perhaps the most tasteless and least artistically driven of all horror films are slasher films (ignoring the new torture genre, because I refuse to acknowledge it). The very premise (killer kills people) is not the headiest point to start from, but there have been worthwhile whacks at the genre.

Psycho is a proto-slasher movie, the one who others follow, but only in rough forms. Slasher movies will never get better than this. Psycho isn’t just a good horror film, it’s a good movie, plain and simple. Well directed, well acted, well written; it’s everything most horror movies are not.

Black Christmas and Halloween are the next two movies worth watching and key to the evolution of the genre. Black Christmas is the quirkier of the two, featuring a killer who’s rarely seen on camera. His personality is revealed through a series of disturbing and unnerving phone calls. While Black Christmas came first, but Halloween was more popular and more of an impact in numerous ways: the preternaturally indestructible killer, the mask, the type of victim (nubile youth who are spent after hours of sex) and the heroine. It’s almost always a woman who dispatches the killer.

After Halloween came Friday the 13th, followed closely by A Nightmare on Elm Street. While Friday the 13th did everything it could to mimic its predecessors, A Nightmare On Elm Street broke the mold in a few ways. Freddy Krueger actually spoke, for starters, though his talking would become more annoying in later movies. His method of dispatching was also unique, delving into the dreams of his victims.

But, after twenty years, Michael Meyers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees all began to wear out their welcome with increasingly bad sequels that were less scary and more about over-the-top kills and unintentional humor. By the mid-nineties, Krueger and Voorhees took a vacation from the screen, only to return ten years later worse than ever.  Jason goes into space for god’s sake.

The last truly great slasher film, one that stands alongside Halloween and Black Christmas in quality, is Scream. Scream is a satirical stab at the genre, featuring often blatant references to past movies and the characters all but turn and wink at the camera. It’s a black comedic look at what the slasher film had become. The joke eventually turned sour as Scream was itself followed by two lackluster sequels, but that might have been Wes Craven’s attempt at metahumor.

With the recent Hollywood trend toward rebooting, all the old favorites had a chance to shine again and all failed. Rather than trying to tell new stories with new characters, they took the same old hack ‘n’ slash and just tried to make it more brutal, more violent. Violence alone isn’t what’s scary, especially if you don’t care about the characters. Blood and guts doesn’t scare. And old and familiar definitely doesn’t scare.

For the slasher film to truly be relevant again, Krueger needs to hang up his hat and Jason needs to put down the machete. Audiences need something new. And by new, I don’t mean two hours of tourists being tortured by psychos in the middle of Eastern Europe.

Dylan Charles

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