Mr. Tusk Watercolor Illustration

#29: The Walrus and The Carpenter

*Danger, Will Robinson: Affiliate Links Ahead! Clicking on some links may compensate myself and the blog. Read the disclosure policy for complete info.*

Republished today in memory of Michael Parks, our own Howard Howe.


Tusk

I became acquainted with a Walrus when I was lost at sea.

I would describe Tusk as a horror-comedy. I really would. I’d also describe it as the most atrocious, upsetting, horrific concept I’ve ever had to wrap my head (and my poor, poor eyes) around. So, while Kevin Smith will offer you his usual jokes, I cannot be responsible for how many of you will not find this funny. Just not even a little bit at all.

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The Midnight Meat Train Watercolor Illustration

#31: Meat

Happy Halloween! Happy 31st Day of Horror! Let’s take one last ride. I promise, it’ll be quick.

The Midnight Meat Train

Step away from the meat.

There is no arguing for The Midnight Meat Train on anyone’s “Best Of” list; it offers nothing new, nothing overwhelmingly special. If you’ve heard of it at all, it probably took you a moment to remember what it was about, or where you saw it (probably on Chiller). But I bet you remembered that title. That title is to the point.

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It Follows Watercolor Illustration

#30: Certainty

*The giveaway is now closed*

By now you’ve realized that I like a slow build. A crawl even. This one walks with conviction.

It Follows

And the most terrible agony may not be in the wounds themselves but in knowing for certain that within an hour, then within ten minutes, then within half a minute, now at this very instant – your soul will leave your body and you will no longer be a person, and that this is certain. The worst thing is that it is certain.

The monster in It Follows moves only slightly faster than my favorite Night of the Living Dead zombies, yet it’s not so easily definable as either dead, zombie, person, ghost, or monster, even. There is some entity following Jay, but a label is not necessary to make whatever it is frightening. The threat is certain. That’s all a good horror movie needs.

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Ginger Snaps Watercolor Illustration

#19: Ginger

If you liked Jennifer’s Body, you’re going to get a kick out of this one. And even if you didn’t, my money’s still on the werewolf.

Ginger Snaps

Our little girl’s a young woman now.

It’s honestly surprising to me that I haven’t covered a werewolf movie yet in this HorrorThon, because they are some of my very favorite creatures, and in a movie world filled with vampires and zombies, werewolves are like a breath of fresh, dog-scented air.

I could have covered any number of demon-dog classics, but Ginger Snaps is not only worthy of a top spot in the Best Werewolf Film list, but also chock full of women exercising their power – and y’all know by now that I really, really like that.

It should occur to you pretty early on that this Canadian horror-comedy from 2000 had to have been a major influence on Cody and Kusama when making Jennifer’s Body. It’s about two sisters and their oddly (and I do mean odd as in macabre) close relationship, and most importantly, about “becoming a woman.” Is there a better way to put that? Let’s just be frank: it’s about getting your period.

For all the dudes that just clicked our of their browser window, you’re big chickens. For everyone that is now intrigued and thinking, werewolves cycle with the moon, periods cycle with the lunar calendar, good on you. Because it’s a killer joke, and a very accurate portrayal of what it’s like to… change.

Classic werewolf movies can’t help but be about change. I mean, come on – it’s the most literal manifestation possible. But more often than not, the monster is used with men. Case-in-point, another all time favorite, An American Werewolf in London. David and Jack are foreigners out of their element, two college students on the brink of real adulthood, and they’re attacked. Jack is taken out. David infected. And his change (still one of the best FX moments in all the land), is violent and completely out of his hands. As is his sudden unconscious desire to devour human beings during the full moon. Ultimately, David can’t prevent his change – or at least, he can’t prevent others from seeing him for it.

Ginger suffers the same. Only, everyone around her thinks she’s just becoming a woman. Because excess body hair, heavy bleeding, and a suddenly volatile temper are all symptoms of adolescence and PMS, right?

Ginger Snaps Watercolor Illustration
“Ginger” | Original Art by Alex Landers

I can think of no more perfect metaphor for how alienating such a change can be, and also, how terribly the (to quote the oh-so-eloquent Jennifer from last night’s film) “boy-run media” can distort what women who are “pluggin'” can be like.

Best Scene:

Ginger and Brigitte in the drugstore purchasing tampons. There isn’t any blood, it isn’t scary, but it includes two of the most important lines of dialogue ever: “This one comes with a free calendar” (in reference to a box of tampons), and “The words just and cramps don’t go together.” #Truth.

Also love the reaction of the girls’ teacher after screening their “Death Project” slide show. He’s impressed, and then disturbed, and then ready to have them meet him in the guidance office after class. It’s a pretty damn good slide show.

Other Things to Notice:

Mimi Rogers is easily my favorite part of this film. She plays what is no doubt the most naive, saccharin, ex-cheerleader mother-figure to ever exist. She wants to make entry into woman-hood an exciting time for her girls (can’t you just feel the embarrassment, ladies?), all while she seasonally decorates and bakes. What is most surprising, and most important about Mimi as Mom, is that she is who she is, and she sticks to it. She wants to be there for her daughters – daughters who appear to be her exact opposite and despise becoming anything like her. She sees no shame in what comes with being female. And when it comes down to it, she has no qualms about packing it all up to take her daughters away from the neighborhood and on the run. Because this Mom is committed, she loves her girls, and as it turns out, they’re not all that different, anyway.

And in case you’re sick of it already, YES, female friendship and bonds are incredibly important to me. I think they’re largely waived in big-budget studio films in favor of the dramatic cat-fights and tension that sells tickets. I don’t think the men who are dominant in the screenwriting and directorial fields really understand just how damaging the perpetuation of that stereotype can be. My generation has been seeing it played out so long, I think we often play it ourselves. I champion any film that shows women helping other women – at any and all costs. If you’re looking for the same, you won’t be disappointed here.

And finally, Katherine Isabelle. I’ll be watching American Mary shortly, a much more recent film in which she stars. Just know that Isabelle is basically the Canadian horror Queen. And if you’ve been watching the incredible Hannibal on NBC (until it’s untimely and gut wrenching cancellation), you’ll know what’s up. She’s a light. Enjoy her early performance here – her personality only grows stronger, and she deserves every ounce of your recognition and respect.

If You Like It, Watch:

The Howling: It’s been a while since I stole a copy from my father’s bootleg VHS collection, but this is a great werewolf film. Joe Dante (who did Gremlins) directed, and it doesn’t have just one werewolf, but a whole COLONY. Enjoy. Watch the Trailer

An American Werewolf in London: It really pains me that I don’t have this scheduled on my HorrorThon list (31 days is not enough!), but I do believe that everyone should watch this at least once. If not for the classic transformation scene, for John Landis’s on-point direction, hilarious script, and the best cut to end credits in any horror film. A classic. Follow it up with Animal House, just because. Watch the Trailer

Up Next:

American Psycho

Jennifer's Body Watercolor Illustration

#18: Jenny, I Got Your Number

This is hands down the most quotable movie on the 31 days of horror calendar. Part of me thinks the best critical analysis of Jennifer’s Body is just an arbitrary list of every bit of genius that comes out of Jennifer Check and her best friend Needy Lesnicky’s mouths. But instead – because that would be too easy – let’s talk about why their banter is so damn good in the first place. Let’s talk about female friendship.

Jennifer’s Body

You killed my fucking boyfriend, you goddamn monster.

Jennifer’s Body is a horror movie. It’s about a girl who’s taken by a group of devil worshipers and sacrificed to Satan in the woods. But it’s also a romance – and not between Needy and her boyfriend Chip, or Jennifer and any of the boys she eats (she does that). By my account, it’s a tragic romance between two girls who have been friends since childhood. Jennifer and Needy are the couple that matters, the couple whose love is threatened, the couple whose relationship is doomed to fall apart. The boy eating is merely a backdrop. And a poignant one.

Diablo Cody wrote Juno before this, and would go on to write Young Adult after it. Juno established the bizarre teenage slang-dialect that’s going on throughout Jennifer’s Body (just let it happen), and Young Adult, is in my opinion, a master work in creating a totally unsympathetic main character. But this little genre film, in the hands of director Karyn Kusama (Girl Fight), is a feminist anthem if I ever did see one.

In the true-story of the terrible marketing of this film, the only scene that seemed to make the trailers and the hype was the kiss between Amanda Seyfried (Needy) and Megan Fox (Jennifer). However, in context within the whole film, it is great. And not just for the make-out. But because their friendship, their genuine attraction to one another, is real, and well-developed, and complicated. 

How many horror films have the demon sit down and explain herself to her former best friend, including the details of exactly what happened, why she’s killing boys, and don’t you think that’s cool?

Jennifer's Body Watercolor Illustration
“Jennifer” | Original Art by Alex Landers

Where Jennifer lures boys into empty half-built suburban homes (a lovely illustration of the late 2000s housing market crash) to kill and eat them, she meets (okay, surprises and terrifies) Needy in her bedroom and has what is the sweetest, most honest, romantic moment she seems capable of having. There is a power to succubus Jennifer that no one can resist, not even Needy, but although Jennifer uses that irresistible pull on her bestie, she never threatens her with the same fate. She doesn’t want to eat her. She just wants to tease her a little bit. For fun.

Of course, Jennifer’s not kind to Needy. In fact, she’s awful, going after the boys her friend likes the most. But what is truer between teenage girls than the boys and hormones that seem to get in the way? Only that Jennifer’s choices for dinner are meant to affect Needy on the deepest level possible. Jennifer is a terrible friend. But she is also in love with her best friend. And Needy returns it – making her ultimate choices all the harder, and more meaningful, when she has to make them.

Best Shot:

I can do this one in a sentence. Jennifer perching like a vulture on the back of chair in the dark. Boom. Done.

Best Scene:

As mentioned, I have strong feelings for the Needy/Jennifer sleepover scene. But I also love the shot of Jennifer swimming, post-kill, in the lake behind the high school. I love that when Needy has sex for the first time, she sees Jennifer. I really enjoy Chip’s questioning of the school library’s Occult book section. And ultimately, the use of Tommy TuTone’s 867-5309 during a virgin sacrifice is just, well, sick. SICK.

Other Things to Notice:

This movie is jokes on jokes on jokes. But it is also offers serious commentary when it needs to, especially about the way sexually powerful women are stigmatized and abused. Watching Jennifer be force-fed a drink and invited into a van full of strangers is uncomfortable at best. And for those that would cry out that Jennifer is asking for it because of who she is, and the things she does before it – believe me, this movie thinks you’re part of the problem.

Basically, watch for everything that makes this film a social commentary on women, women’s rights, and the bonds women have with one another. There is a thesis-length piece of writing here, but I am giving it a blog post.

Keep an open mind, and enjoy something special that nearly every critic seemed to miss.

If You Like It, Watch:

JawbreakerThis is a little bit horror, a little bit comedy, and a lotta bit teenage pulpy goodness. It’s a much meaner Mean Girls. With a dead girl in the trunk of a car.

TeethYou need to consider your life choices when your boyfriend brings you a copy of this movie and says, “this reminded me of you.” But, let’s be honest, this is definitely in my wheelhouse. While this isn’t about ladies’ relationships with each other, it is about women being taken advantage of by men – and getting some unexpected vengeance out of it. I’d warn you, but, I’d rather you just watch it.

Up Next:

Ginger Snaps 

 

P.S. I have now had multiple requests for a post on Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. I’m on it.

What are your favorite horror movies? Leave a comment down below!

Mister Babadook Watercolor Illustration

#15: Mister Babadook

You know it’s a fairy-tale when it has its own pop-up book.

The Babadook

If it’s in a word, or it’s in a book, you can’t get rid of The Babadook.

First of all, let it be known that you can in fact own your own copy of Mister Babadook’s book (it was limited edition, and you’ll have to buy it off some rando now, but STILL). I don’t know what kind of person would want this on their coffee table (ME), but just file that info away for later. There are only ten weeks left ’til Christmas, after all.

Jennifer Kent wrote and directed this Australian horror movie about a big bad Nosferatu-esque monster who stalks a single mother and her anxious son. Honestly, it was the best horror of 2014, and should have been on everybody’s radar, but *le sigh* it was overlooked. I saw it premiere many months late at a screening in New Haven where the theatre showed a DVD copy on a tiny screen. Still – the first watch made my skin crawl. Maybe it was the twenty seat (closet) theatre. Maybe it was a particularly anxious day for me. Maybe this one is just really, really scary.

I’m definitely drawn to imaginative kinds of scary. And anything jumping outside of a children’s book is doing it for me. If you enjoy the creepy-crawly feeling that a good creeper can give you, but don’t require the blood-and-guts gore, this psychological smack-in-the-face is your jam (Hold on, looking for a job writing millennial catalog descriptions ASAP).

But let’s get real – The Babadook is a scary dude. But that’s not what the meat of this movie is all about.

Here are things that bother me that AREN’T The Babadook:

  • Samuel
  • Samuel
  • Samuel
  • Oh, wait, Samuel.

You know, I’m not a mother. I’m relatively young still. I think I’ll probably be a mother at some point. But let me take a moment here to ask all you current mothers out there – does this child scare the ever-loving crap out of you, too? He’s darling, he means well, the magician routine is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen, but I want to meet the parent who thinks they could handle this child.

There is not one moment in the first thirty minutes of this film that I do not completely sympathize with Amelia, and wish for Sam to leave her be long enough to take a damn nap. I cringe when he claws at her neck and clings to her in his sleep. Wince when he screams uncontrollably in the back of the car, sending himself into stress-induced seizure. I cry with her when she begs the doctor for some kind of psychiatric intervention for her child that does not relent. And I understand her longing when she stares into the neighbor’s window, wishing to live the life of an older, childless woman – watching television, finally able to relax. So, when things start to *snap* for Amelia, I am not surprised.

But then comes the guilt that I have sided, perhaps, with the wrong person. Because Sam seems to be right about one thing: you should not, for any reason, let The Babadook in.

Great Scene:

When Amelia stops at the police station to file a report on whoever (or whatever) is stalking her with a children’s picture book, the men on duty are cruelly dismissive of her. It feels like the entire world is against her, and she is truly alone.

Mister Babadook Watercolor Illustration
“Mister” | Original Art by Alex Landers

I can’t think of a moment that might better sum up what a heavy burden life can be when we are living it alone. Not to mention, the coat and hat that are hanging on the wall in back seem to be those of The Babadook, himself. 

Other Things to Notice:

There’s a reason they did a real life print-run of the book. It’s a really cool prop, and illustrated in the kind of inky broad strokes and texture that somehow evokes both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Eric Carle.

The opening scene of Amelia falling onto the bed is reminiscent of so many things for me – number one being the “dream” sequence in Rosemary’s Baby where Rosemary is raped by the Devil. That thought weighs on the entire film for me. Now it will for you, too.

*Want to watch it tonight? You’re in luck – The Babadook is streaming on Netflix. 

If You Like It, Watch:

A Nightmare on Elm Street: I’m going to watch this next week (along with A LOT of Wes Craven, because RESPECT), but it’s worth pointing out that The Babadook is not just Nosferatu-inspired, but maybe a little bit Freddy, too. Look for the scene where Freddy’s arms expand like accordions, looking for a great big hug – see if it looks familiar after watching this one.

Repulsion: It’s not just Rosemary’s Baby that left a mark on Babadook. Polanski also made this little psychological thriller that’s ALL about a woman experiencing some internal conflict. Nothing like being locked in your apartment for a few days…

Up Next:

Yes, it finally showed up.

The Haunting (1963)

*click for the trailer*

Klaus Kinski Nosferatu Watercolor Illustration

#14: The Vampyre

I know yesterday I was saying things like, “Italian horror is the BEST!” And I meant it. But, you guys –

There is no horror like German horror.

Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: The Vampyre

There are things more horrible than death.

Clearly I have more than one (or ten) favorites. But when it comes to dark, brooding, contemplative film, German cinema has been doing it since the beginning. And by “the beginning,” I do mean, THE beginning of film.

The original Nosferatu was filmed in 1922, under the direction of F.W. Murnau. It is a classic (and probably the most famous) silent film, made in the tradition of German Expressionism – heavy on shadows, gestural movement, and a nightmarish tone. Unlike some of the other famous Expressionist films, though (see the charming Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), it is not filmed on a theatrical, abstract set, but instead in a strict realism – the sets are castles and the German countryside. The Expressionism is alive in the Nosferatu, himself – or as you and I know him, Count Dracula.

If you study German Film (you should), you will immediately be struck by its rich history and the commitment of its industry to confronting pertinent social themes through art. Yes, WWII brought some despicable additions. Hitler’s regime made a dangerous propaganda machine out of an artistic tradition that was setting the bar in worldwide filmmaking. Nosferatu (and many other silents after it), is rife in anti-semitic symbolism. As a Jew myself, it can be difficult, and painful, to confront those characterizations, and move past them. But as I’ve been doing since I found myself in my first German film class eight years ago, I urge you to observe, understand, and watch how this incredible film culture has developed.

The post-war generation of German filmmakers turned much of this around by doing what German art does best – confronting all of it head on. Werner Herzog (along with Rainer Werner Fassbender, Wim Wenders, Margarethe von Trotte, and many others) began making films in the 1960s that forced every audience, and I’m sure every cast and crew member, to deal with the aftermath of Germany’s troubled past choices; a history that the new generation now found inescapable and unavoidable.

When Herzog chose to remake Nosferatu in 1979, with his “reluctant” artistic partner Klaus Kinski (I say reluctant in air quotes because, well, just watch this doc), he was not only updating a classic, but marching into dangerous social territory (don’t worry, he does this all the time). Remaking a German Expressionist staple would be celebrating a time when Germany was at the top of its game culturally, and economically. It would also be reintroducing a character that was originally designed as a walking Jewish stereotype: a monster that frightened not just because it sucked blood, but because of its “ethnic” qualities.

But it seems to me that this is precisely why Herzog, in his only real “remake” to date, chose to do it. What better story is there, with its themes of horror, death, and endless life, to use as a platform to confront the Holocaust and Germany’s part in it? Of a generation’s incredible inability to shake the mistakes of the one before it.

Bet you didn’t think #HorrorThon would get this heavy, did you? Horror can take you places, man. This is one of those places. Stay with me, okay?

Kinski as Count Dracula is, as ever, a sublime force.

Klaus Kinski Nosferatu Watercolor Illustration
“The Vampyre” | Original Art by Alex Landers

He acts with every molecule in his body. His performance evokes the original character, and takes it ever so much further. Part of this is the addition of sound – dialogue obviously adds to a story that was originally told only in picture and title cards. But a lot of it is Kinski, himself. His eyes alone tell an incredibly complex story of the monster deigned to live infinite lifetimes. He is very often frightening, but somehow, not sinister. What is most horrifying about Kinski’s Count is not how threatening he is, but how sickeningly, insufferably human. He longs for love. He longs for what Jonathan Harker has in Lucy. He wants very much to die.

What Herzog achieves here is pretty clear from that last paragraph. What in Murnau’s silent film is a devilish monster without feeling, is in his version, a relatable being. He is cursed, made ugly, forced to live on endlessly, and entirely alone. And what was once a hideous stereotype of a people, is now a symbol two-fold. One, of the feeling the Jews must have had, living through the horror of what Germany, for many their homeland, had put them through. A horror that never seemed to end, and would live on in their memories forever, without hope of receding. And two, of the weight that Germany and its people would now be forced to live with for as long as anyone could remember. And as a legend as strong as the vampire’s goes, that will no doubt be forever, too.

Yes, this is a horror movie. It is also a piece of art. Most importantly, it is a means of bringing a culture and a country together again. Why am I featuring it here? Because it’s a bad-ass, bitchin’, creepy-as-hell horror film. But mostly because it shows you what I’ve believed for a long, long time: Horror and genre film have the unique ability to subvert what we think we know, and turn it into something new.

Yep. Horror movies change lives. Deal with it.

Great Shots: I decided there are too many to pick just one. So, here’s a list:

  • The Count carrying his own coffin to the house.
  • The shadow of the vampire when he enters Lucy’s room, her frozen expression in the vanity mirror.
  • Lucy’s back to the camera as she sits in the cemetery, praying for Jonathan.
  • Lucy walking the foggy beach, in the most sublime, painterly landscape since Caspar David Friedrich.
  • When Dracula and Jonathan eat together. And by that, I mean, when Jonathan eats and Dracula watches.
  • The SUPER GROSS decaying, shrunken bodies all over the walls in the opening sequence.

You’ll notice a lot more. This is a beautiful, beautiful movie.

Other Things:

From a cinematographic standpoint (ooo, fancy!), the addition of color here is superb. It’s a muted palette, which makes the change from black and white much less forced than it could be. It also allows for certain colors, like the pinkish-red of the Count’s lips, to pop.

Herzog is infamous for using non-actors in his work (obviously taken to an extreme with his recent surge of documentaries), and there is one here that really stands out to me: the only other human presence at the Count’s castle in Transylvania is a little boy playing a violin. He seems to come out of nowhere, appearing when Harker is in distress, and has no clear connection to the Count. However, there he is, playing on, as though a part of landscape, himself.

And, you know I can’t help but bring the ladies into it: at its heart, this story is not so much about Jonathan, but about Lucy. And Herzog allows her to take over much of the film. Good riddance, because she is a striking presence, and a compellingly strong heroine.

If You Like It, Watch:

Aguirre, The Wrath of God: If you’d like to continue down a Herzog path, and also keep the horror train rolling, hit up Aguirre next. Kinski’s back at his lunatic best, and this is some crazy, crazy storytelling. You can be scared just thinking about how they literally shot this on rafts over raging rapids in South America. And also, because it is INSANE.

Vampyr: The brilliant work of Carl Theodor Dreyer of Denmark is a masterpiece of horror and German-language filmmaking. It is all about creeping, deeply unsettling imagery and atmosphere. It is beautiful and will haunt you all night long.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: This is a classic, and also a delight to watch. If you can’t find a copy with a good soundtrack, just mute it and play the dramatic score of your choice. *Yes, there’s that Portlandia sketch where you’re cursed to deliver the mail forever until you can get someone to watch their Netflix copy of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and then it passes on to them. Don’t be scared, I’m totally not trying to do that. I would NEVER. *Streaming on Netflix

And hold up, I’ve even got ONE MORE!

Funny Games: If you’re still curious about German horror and all it’s capable of, turn your attentions to Michael Haneke (of the Oscar-winning Amour). You’ll find two versions of this torturous home-invasion film – one in German, one in English. He wrote and directed both. They are brutal, cruel, and incredibly violent. They are also both very good. *Streaming on Netflix

Up Next:

The Babadook

*click for the trailer*

(WATCH IT AHEAD OF TIME! It’s streaming on Netflix!)

 

Jeremy Irons Dead Ringers Watercolor Illustration

#11: Mutant Women

This is not a horror movie, per say. But it is most certainly not an erotic thriller as the box description would have you believe. At least, I have an exceptionally hard time finding any part of this Cronenberg feature “erotic.” But maybe that’s because I am a woman, and my vagina is under attack by the Mantle Brothers.

Dead Ringers

There’s nothing wrong with the instrument, it’s the body. The woman’s body is all wrong!

There are many movies in my repertoire that I consider horrific, but are in fact, not horror movies. They are dramas, westerns, thrillers, the occasional teen romance. But David Cronenberg’s movies are exquisitely placed in a genre all their own. Dead Ringers is particularly special.

Firstly, it has Jeremy Irons. Talented as he may be playing just one part, in this film, he plays two. Twins. Together in almost every scene. You will forget by minute five (or perhaps you will never notice at all) that these are not two people, and that Irons is only one incredible actor. Although, as Cronenberg geniusly directs, by the end of the film, you’ll be left wondering whether there ever were two characters to begin with.

Second, you must wait for the horror to start. You must wait a good, long while before there is any real violence occurring. But when it does, it comes in swarms. And it is, like all Cronenberg body horror, somewhere between monstrous and medical, nightmarish and naturalistic.

For those looking for outright slasher, this one isn’t going to cut it. In one of my favorite books on “horror philosophy,” scholar Noel Carroll coins the term “art horror.” To be horrified, in your real life existence, is different from the experience one has at the movie theatre. When you are sitting in your seat, watching the most gruesome scene, you are not in fact, experiencing that trauma directly. To be really horrified, is to be violated directly and physically; to watch a horrible act first hand, to have your body cut open and writhe in pain, to be scared of an intruder in your home. What you experience on-screen (or reading a book, for that matter), is something else – something one step removed.

When you watch a film, you are willingly sitting in front of a screen, watching a contrived narrative play out before you. Although your body may make you feel scared, or experience something like fear, you are not actually experiencing that fear first hand. Because you are, in fact, quite safe in your seat, watching things occur with a clear line between yourself and what is behind the screen. To be art-horrified then, is to experience horror willingly, and to deliberately induce the feeling.  Big concept. Hard to put your finger on. But you know the feeling, right? To be in a car accident produces one sensation. To watch one unfold on-screen as part of a fictional story, creates another.

Considering that idea, think about how non-horror films could be read as horror. Does something need to be gruesome to art-horrify you? Or can it simply be a disturbing change in character? A sinister tone? One of my favorite non-horror “horror” movies is There Will Be Blood – watch this period drama again (or for the first time if you haven’t), and think of it as a monster movie. I guarantee it will change the experience for you.

In Dead Ringers, I am immediately disturbed, though not necessarily scared. The Mantle Twins as children are oddly adult, fixated on sex – and odd sex at that – and when Elliot asks Bev, “are you thinking what I’m thinking?” the very last thing you’d expect two people to be thinking of simultaneously is what comes out of Elliot’s mouth (I won’t tell you, because this is a surprise everyone should have the joy of experiencing).

The art-horror comes into play as soon as the boys, as pre-med undergraduates, design a contraption for holding the body open during a surgical procedure. The device looks torturous. I immediately imagine what these two men might use it for. Then they become gynecologists. I am beginning to grow very uncomfortable from this side of the screen.

It only worsens as the film goes on. By the time Bev visits an artist’s metalwork studio to have special “tools” made for the “mutant women” he believes keep showing up in his office, I am as deeply scared as I think I’m going to get. Part of the real horror of this work is the waiting – wondering what might happen, what the twins are capable of, and what you eventually know is coming.

It’s that knowing, I think, that really enacts the penultimate moment of art-horror in Dead Ringers. Much like the events of The Shining, when it finally happens, you have seen it coming from a mile away. But it is so terrible, so troubled, so physically revolting, that you can’t help yourself. In an act of deeply disturbed catharsis, you have been waiting to see what becomes of Elliot and Bev. And when that catharsis arrives, you feel it, art-horrified (and maybe despicably satisfied), in the pit of your stomach.

I haven’t given you very much to go on. But I want you to watch this one. And the less I say, the more art-horrified you’re going to be.

Great Scene:

Any appointment at the gynecologist is a pretty awful one, as far as I’m concerned. But when Bev has begun to go off his rocker, and chooses, let’s just say, “the wrong instrument” for the procedure, I have never felt so sick in my whole life. I’m sure this is because as a woman, I can relate to the nice lady stuck with her legs straddled in that familiar chair, but I’d be curious to meet any man who doesn’t feel violated by this moment, too. The Mantle Brothers’ bed-side manner is definitely lacking.

Other Things to Notice:

Cronenberg makes great use of the color red.

Jeremy Irons Dead Ringers Watercolor Illustration
“Dr. Mantle” | Original Art by Alex Landers

With each doctor, nurse, and attendant in red scrubs, the operating room looks like a cross between a Catholic church and a Satanic cult – not to mention, the cut of Bev’s scrubs are identical to a priest’s robes.

If You Like It, Watch:

The Brood – Full disclosure, I’m trying very hard to get my hands on this earlier Cronenberg film to share with you this month. It’s currently being rereleased by Criterion, and won’t be available for purchase until next week. But if you can get your hands on this at your local library (it’s a classic, they should have it), you will not be disappointed. It is a brilliant mix of the director’s signature body horror and psychological manifestation.

Reanimator – If you want full-on body horror, and you like a little H.P. Lovecraft to go with it, you’ll get a kick out of this cult classic. It’s a personal favorite, with enough gore, puss, ooze, and puns to keep me happy – and it’ll lighten the mood in the room a little bit after you’re done getting through the Ringers.

Up Next:

Selections from The Short Films of David Lynch

**Movie Suggestions Update: I’ve gotten great feedback so far, but I want MORE (please)! So far I’ve heard requests for Planet Terror and Don’t Look Now. What else do you think I should see? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zombie Brain Watercolor Art

#10: Brains and Spinal Columns

I can’t imagine a single person that wouldn’t love this movie.

I also think everyone loves The Fly with Jeff Goldblum, so take this with a grain of salt. But, I’m just going to say it: if you don’t like these fiends, I don’t know if we can be friends.

Fiend Without A Face

I don’t mean to be morbid, but did you see his face after he died?

Atomic. Mental. Vampires.

What more do you need?

Brains with spinal cord tails. Got it!

Fiend Without A Face is the perfect amalgamation of horror and science fiction. It has the kind of masterful claymation effects work that would make Ray Harryhausen proud. It’s gory for a film made in ’58, it’s well written, easy to follow, and honestly: Why don’t things like this win Oscars?

But I digress – this is just a ton of fun in a compact 92 minutes. It’s also a pretty brilliant commentary on American military and nuclear power. I really wish I could have gotten Fiend Without a Face expert R. Suellau in here to guest post on it, but perhaps we can book her for a later date. This sort of work really does deserve to be expounded upon.

I’m going to do my (brief) best.

Sci-Fi is not as much my bag as Horror, but I find that the films from this period (40s-50s) are often flirting with horror, if not outright combining the two. So I have a soft spot for them. The original Fly with Vincent Price is a perennial favorite. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a classic example of chill inducing sci-fi. And of course, mutant insect pictures like Them! and Tarantula* are as much about the creep factor as they are the weird science (*I don’t watch any of the spider movies for personal reasons, so no, I can’t really tell you anything about them. Except that I’m scared of them. A lot).

What’s maybe most special about Fiend to me is that its creatures aren’t really creatures at all – they’re human brains.

Zombie Brain Watercolor Art
“A Fiend” | Original Art by Alex Landers

Of course, they’re human brains with spinal cords that crawl around and kill people of their own accord, but still – they’re pieces of us. And their source is not a chemistry set, or an alien ship, but the thoughts of a man projected into the world, propelled into reality by nuclear power. That’s a big statement there. It says something about the power of men. It says something about the power of war machines. And it says something about what we choose to use our brains for.

And it is especially telling that these brains, sneaking up and choking the life out of people, are terrifying. It’s as if the filmmakers are suggesting we’re afraid of our own intellectualism, afraid of our own ideas, afraid of what it is we might be capable of. Food for thought. Literally. (I think that millennialism almost works here!)

Great Scene:

Brains climbing up trees is pretty killer. BUT, the real stand-out for me here is, for some reason, the explication bit. When they finally get the Professor talking about these creatures he’s materialized with his mind, he really gets going. And going. And going. And going. It’s a classic genre moment, where the science behind the irrationality is finally explained, and this narrative bit (complete with amazing flashback sequence!) is PEAK mad scientist. It’s also oddly serious, and when I sat to think about the implications of the Professor’s thought experiment, I found it genuinely frightening. Not to mention, I live not far from a nuclear power plant (we’re in the “stay where you are, you’re irradiated already” zone), so the thought of radiation levels enhancing human thought patterns, enough to power a telepathy which can induce brain soldiers is TOO REAL, guys. TOO REAL.

Other Things to Notice:

The fantastic performances of the victims. I have never been so thrilled to watch people choke by invisible assailants.

And on that note – the sound effects that accompany said assailants. I think this film has some of the best sound design of any movie I’ve seen (old or new). The sounds of encroaching death are kind of crunchy and slimy. And they are chilling.

If You Like It, Watch:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – I truly love both versions and refuse to choose. So for an authentic 50’s horror sci-fi experience, go for the original black and white from 1956. Then, follow it up with the Donald Sutherland 1978 remake for a bit more gore (and Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy) and a really great end shot.

Mimic – Underrated first big studio film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro. Like Fiend, this involves scientists/government overstepping their bounds and creating something that just can’t be stopped. Plus, giant bugs in the subway.

C.H.U.D. – This isn’t a good movie. But if you want to see one of my favorite little radioactive monsters, just fast forward to all the best parts.

Up Next: 

Dead Ringers

**P.S. I NEED YOUR HELP!

I have a couple of spots on my October calendar that haven’t got a horror movie booked yet. I could fill them with my own selections, but I’d rather get some of yours. Are there any films you think I must cover? Better yet, can someone find me one I haven’t seen? It’s a challenge, but one of you must be up for it.

Leave your movie suggestions in the comments, please! 

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Phantasm Horror Movie Watercolor

#4: The Tall Man

Tonight was supposed to be Pumpkinheadbut Netflix failed me, and Phantasm arrived instead. However, the big bad Monster theme of this week will not be defeated, because when you’re talking about boogeymen, stalker types, The Tall Man shall suffice. Know what I’m sayin’? You probably don’t.

Phantasm

“This guy’s not going to leak all over my ice cream, is he?”

Phantasm is weird.

I don’t think I can really prime you for this one any better than that. It’s just very, very weird.

I drew a finger. With orange and yellow pussy stuff around it. That really does make sense once you’ve seen this.

Let’s talk a little first about Don Coscarelli. And to talk about Don Coscarelli, we should really talk a bit about Herschel Gordon Lewis. And also George Romero. Because they are all relevant, and they will help you get yourself in B-Movie Horror mode, which is necessary to give a film like Phantasm the viewing it deserves.

If you’ve never ventured into B-territory, then you’ll turn this on and you’ll probably think – “Geez, this is awful.” And by traditional Hollywood standards we’ve become to be accustomed to, yeah, I guess it is. BUT, please remember that mainstream Hollywood produces some very serious, high production value DRECK (I should make a list!). And though what makes them “bad” may be different, it is so important that you let the B-Movie brilliance wash over you a bit – because true horror fans are made here, in the gooey, gorey, orange and yellow colored puss.

Finger Phantasm Horror Movie Watercolor
“The Finger” | Original Art by Alex Landers

So, Herschel Gordon Lewis: In the ’60s and ’70s, he creates a little subgenre called Splatter films (for obvious gorey reasons). He does this, not from inside a mainstream Hollywood studio, but from an ad agency in Chicago. The movies have no budget to speak of. They are full of naked women. Their blood is the brightest red you’ve ever seen, and the acting is unintentionally comical. They screen these flicks at drive-ins as double features and openers to bigger fare. When you watch Blood Feast or Wizard of Gore, you are indulging in pulpy nostalgia. It’s like eating junk food. And if you have a taste for it, well, it’s hard to stop watching.

Hallmarks of the B-Movie

(in case you like a clean little list):

  • A particular genre (horror, western, science fiction etc.)
  • Low-budget and independently financed
  • Often inspire many, many sequels
  • Use unknown or untrained actors
  • Are absolutely fucking crazy (I mean, sometimes)

I say they’re absolutely fucking crazy, especially in the horror genre because, well, they are. And they are because, outside of the Hollywood system, you can get away with, well… dare I say, anything?

Let’s look at George Romero. He made his zombie movies in Pittsburgh, with a background in commercial and industrial filmmaking. Night of the Living Dead, if you are not familiar, is some really raw shit. People vomited at screenings of this film. It is iconic. And it spawned Dead sequels (not to be confused with the Living Dead sequels – though no less B-quality), and it addressed social issues (as horror as a genre is so excellent at doing), and the zombies became beloved. So beloved, that Millennials can’t stop making ten-thousand television shows, and books, and comics, and crocheted pot holders out of them.

I want you to think of Don Coscarelli like you think of Romero. Because that’s how his fans think of him. As the Godfather of an entire world. And the Phantasm series is his Dead.

It’s still incredibly difficult for me to tell what Phantasm is actually about. But its psychotic dream logic basically defeats that purpose, anyway, so I suggest just sitting back and enjoying what it throws at you.

There are dwarves. There are little black spidery creatures with red eyes and sharp teeth (this really does scare the crap out of me, be forewarned). There’s a silver ball that flies around a mortuary killing people and reflecting things?

I know, I’m losing you (or really pulling you in, if you’re a weirdo like me). But wait for The Tall Man. Because he’s GREAT.

The Tall Man isn’t actually all that tall. But he is tall enough to be slightly off-putting, and that’s very effective. He stalks these boys from funeral to funeral (people keep dying!), and it’s never clear if he’s really a mortician, or a ghost, or maybe even a woman in a lavender dress. It’s a mystery. It’s a pretty good one.

Great Scene:

I said it once, and I’ll say it again – when this little black spidery thing with teeth comes out of the box and the guys try to push it down the garbage disposal, I cringe. I don’t know why. It doesn’t look real. It doesn’t matter.

If you enjoy David Lynch (I know there are a few of you), you can surely appreciate what Coscarelli is trying to do here. I implore all those who love the dream logic of Eraserhead to put in some time with the first couple Phantasmsthey’re of a similar mindset, but with a sense of humor. And again, yellow/orange puss.

My advice to you? Just go with it. You’ll be confused, and you’ll have fun.

*If you’re looking to watch Phantasm, just know that it’s not so easy to purchase a copy at the moment. However, if you’ve got a Netflix DVD account you can get it – and DO NOT MISS the entire Don Coscarelli film archive in the previews!

If You Like It (WEIRDO!), Watch:

Hellraiser – If you like your splatter-gore with a lot more sex and BDSM, this is for you. And as far as monsters go, Pinhead is THE GREATEST. I honestly believe that. *Currently streaming on Netflix Instant

Show the Kids:

Little Monsters – You probably didn’t expect a kiddo suggestion with this one, but this is a B-movie experience for the littles in your life. It is rated PG for some language and a LOT of fart jokes, but it’s fun and creepy, and I think you’ll enjoy it right along with them.

Up Next:

Next week we leave behind the monsters and venture into my personal favorite, Haunted House territory. In the spirit of my current New England home, let’s watch…

The Haunting in Connecticut