Category Archives: Fright Club

A celebration of horror movies with updates on our monthly Fright Club film series at the Gateway Film Center.

Fright Club: Best Lakeside Horror Movies

To some, it’s a lovely spot for a holiday or a proposal or just a little picnic. But we know better. Filmmakers have long taken advantage of the idyllic yet dangerous nature of a lake for horror. Almost always, it’s the irony, of finding death and mayhem exactly where you’re expecting joy and frivolity that makes lakeside horror so compelling.

Here are our favorite horror movies side at a lake.

5. Lake Mungo (2008)

This deceptive slow boil of a documentary is two movies in one: the one you think you’re watching and the one beneath. The obvious film is a clever true-crime bit, constantly introducing new information and fascinating twists, each delivered by incredibly authentic performances.

Alice Palmer drownd. Her parents and brother are having a hard time accepting it, and the noises coming from her bedroom at night promote their skepticism. They investigate, turning up a lot of peculiar intel.

But writer/director Joel Anderson does more than lead you through a surprising mystery. He layers into that the melancholy lonesomeness that any ghost story must have, and the two stories together become one wonderfully sad film.

4. Lake Placid (1999)

Fun! Writer David E. Kelly is known more for his quirky TV series, but he takes the exact same approach –smart, bantering and bickering characters facing a huge challenge – to the big screen with this crocodile hunt.

Veteran horror director Steve Miner (Warlock, House, Friday the 13th parts 2 & 3) delivers thrills and comedy in equal measure, but the film lives and dies with this unbelievable cast.

Betty F. White and Brendan Gleeson! Both! And she tells him to suck her dick!! I don’t know what more you want, but you get Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Bill Pullman and Meredith Salenger in a fun, bloody romp.

3. Friday the 13th (1980)

Before the mask, Sean Cunningham’s 1980 slasher penned by Victor Miller created the splatter-by-numbers blueprint for dozens of horror movies to follow – including 10 of its own sequels. Friday the 13th was a cultural and cinematic turning point that changed horror and the way we thought about summer camp.

With next to no budget but plenty of short shorts, remarkable blood fx by maestro Tom Savini, genuinely original kill sequences, and a masterful twist ending, the film awakened something in moviegoers. It’s been copycatted to death, but upon reinspection, the original is still champion.

2. Funny Games (1997/2007)

A family pulls into their vacation lake home. They are quickly bothered by two young men in white gloves. Things, to put it mildly, deteriorate.

Writer/director/genius Michael Haneke begins this nerve-wracking exercise by treading tensions created through etiquette, toying with subtle social mores and yet building dread so deftly, so authentically, that you begin to clench your teeth long before the first act of true violence.

His 2007 English language remake is a shot-for-shot repeat of the 1997 German language original. In both films, it is the villains who sell the premise. Whether the German actors Arno Frisch and Frank Giering or the Americans Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt, the bored sadism that wafts from these kids is seriously unsettling, as, in turn, is each film.

1. Eden Lake (2008)

The always outstanding Michael Fassbender takes his girl Jenny (Kelly Reilly) to his childhood stomping grounds – a flooded quarry and soon-to-be centerpiece for a grand housing development. He intends to propose, but he’s routinely disrupted, eventually in quite a bloody manner, by a roving band of teenage thugs.

Kids today!

The film expertly mixes liberal guilt with a genuine terror of the lower classes. The acting, particularly from the youngsters, is outstanding. Most impressive, Jack O’Connell’s performance as the young psychopath is chilling.

There’s the slow boil of the cowardly self-righteous. Then there’s this bit with a dog chain. Plus a railroad spike scene that may cause some squeamishness. Well, it’s a grisly mess, but a powerful and provocative one. Excellent performances are deftly handled by the director who would go on to helm The Woman in Black.

Fright Club: Apartment Horror

What a treat we have for this episode! Producer Alok Mishra and actor Naomi Grossman join us to talk about the ghost of Peter Lawford, grand theft auto, Jessica Lange, the obstacles facing independent filming and the best apartment-based horror movies. Let’s hit it!

5. 1BR (2019)

Written and directed by David Marmor and clearly inspired by Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy,” this film is an unnerving experiment in neighborliness. And that’s even without post-lockdown trauma.

Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) just wants to strike out on her own. Yes, she’s nervous, but maybe that’s why this new apartment building feels so right. It’s a real community where people look out for each other.

But they are not keen on pets.

Marmor and a sharp cast move through one surprising door after another. Shifting tones never throw the film off-kilter. Rather, each widens the ripple effect of horror.

4. Rec (2007)

[Rec] shares one cameraman’s footage of the night he and a reporter tagged along with a local fire department. The small news crew and two firefighters respond to a call from an urban apartment building. An elderly woman, locked inside her flat, has been screaming. Two officers are already on the scene. Bad, bad things will happen.

Just about the time the first responders realize they’re screwed, the building is completely sealed off from the outside by government forces. Power to the building is cut, leaving everyone without cell reception, cable, and finally, light. Suddenly we’re trapped inside the building with about fifteen people, some of them ill, some of them bleeding, some of them biting.

Filmmakers Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza make excellent use of their found footage approach, first by way of the news report, then because of the need to use the camera to see once power’s been cut. They play the claustrophobic nature of the quarantine to excellent effect, creating a kind of funhouse of horror that refuses to let you relax. The American reboot Quarantine is another excellent choice, but our vote has to go with the original.

3. Candyman (2021)

We return to Chicago’s now-gentrified Cabrini Green housing project with up-and-coming artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), whose works have taken a very dark turn since he learned of the Candyman legend from laundromat manager William Burke (Colman Domingo).

DaCosta’s savvy storytelling is angry without being self-righteous. Great horror often holds a mirror to society, and DaCosta works mirrors into nearly every single scene in the film. Her grasp of the visual here is stunning—macabre, horrifying, and elegant. She takes cues from the art world her tale populates, unveiling truly artful bloodletting and framing sequences with grotesque but undeniable beauty.

2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Along with Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976), Rosemary’s Baby is part of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” – disturbing films of tension and horror in which metropolitan life and nosey neighbors conspire to drive a person mad.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Polanski takes all the glamour out of Satanism – with a huge assist from Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her turn as the highly rouged busybody Minnie Castevet. By now we all know what happens to poor Rosemary Woodhouse, but back in’69, thanks much to Mia Farrow’s vulnerable performance, the film boiled over with paranoid tension. Was Rosemary losing it, or was she utterly helpless and in evil hands?

1. Under the Shadow (2016)

First-time feature filmmaker, Iranian Babak Anvari, treads familiar ground yet manages to shift focus entirely and create the profound and unsettling Under the Shadow.

The tale is set in Tehran circa 1988, at the height of the Iran/Iraq war and just a few years into the “Cultural Revolution” that enforced fundamentalist ideologies. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) shelter in their apartment as missiles rain on Tehran.

Frazzled, impatient, judged and constrained from all sides, Shideh’s nerve is hit with this threat. And as external and internal anxieties build, she’s no longer sure what she’s seeing, what she’s thinking, or what the hell to do about it. The fact that this menacing presence – a djinn, or wind spirit – takes the shape of a flapping, floating burka is no random choice. Shideh’s failure in this moment will determine her daughter’s entire future.

Fright Club: Best Horror Movies of 2022

What a great year! So many horror films were both wonderful and huge box office successes, including Scream, Smile, The Black Phone and Barbarian.

Shudder hit another year out of the park with Good Madam, The Innocents, Speak No Evil, Slapface, Satan‘s Slaves: Communion, Mandrake, A Wounded Fawn and more. Plus the underseen and magnificent indies Men, You Won’t Be Alone, and Soft and Quiet still demand to be seen.

But we had to narrow down, so here are the 10 best horror movies of 2022.

10. Watcher

On Shudder

If you’re a fan at all of genre films, chances are good Watcher will look plenty familiar. But in her feature debut, writer/director Chloe Okuno wields that familiarity with a cunning that leaves you feeling unnerved in urgent and important ways.

Maika Monroe is sensational as Julia, an actress who has left New York behind to follow husband Francis (Karl Glusman) and begin a new life in Bucharest.

Monroe emits an effectively fragile resolve. The absence of subtitles helps us relate to Julia immediately, and Monroe never squanders that sympathy, grounding the film at even the most questionably formulaic moments.

Mounting indignities create a subtle yet unmistakable nod to a culture that expects women to ignore their better judgment for the sake of being polite. Okuno envelopes Julia in male gazes that carry threats of varying degrees, all building to a bloody and damn satisfying crescendo.

9. Mad God

On Shudder

Phil Tippett’s demons take center stage in his stop-motion head trip 30 years in the making, Mad God. It’s like a Bosch painting and a Tool video accusing each other of being too lighthearted.

Mad God delivers a nightmare vision like little else, overwhelming in its detail and scope. Tippett plumbs cycles of mindless cruelty. 

Mad World revels in Tippett’s vulgar, potent fantasy without belaboring a clear plotline. The world itself resembles hell itself. Tippett peoples this landscape with figures and images that also feel reminiscent: a doll’s befouled face, a fiendish surgeon, a cloaked figure.

8. Nitram

Streaming

In 1996, Martin Bryant murdered 35 people, injuring another 23 in Port Arthur, Tasmania. The horror led to immediate gun reform in the nation, but director Justin Kurtzel is more interested in what came before than after.

Playing the unnamed central figure (Nitram is Martin spelled backward), Caleb Landry Jones has never been better, and that’s saying something. He is one of the most versatile actors working today, effortlessly moving from comedy to drama, from terrifying to charming to awkward to ethereal. There is an aching tenderness central to every performance. (OK, maybe not Get Out, but that would have been weird.)

Nitram looks at how nature and nurture are to blame. Socialization plus parenting plus bad wiring is exacerbated by the isolation and loneliness they demand. Everyone is to blame. It’s a conundrum the film nails.

But it’s Landry Jones you’ll remember. He’s terrifying but endlessly sympathetic in a bleak film that’s a tough but rewarding watch.

7. Crimes of the Future

Streaming

In a dreary world where “surgery is the new sex,” two performance artists (Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux) turn one’s mutant organs into art.

If that doesn’t sound like a David Cronenberg movie, nothing does.

The film references, directly or indirectly, The Brood, Dead Ringers, The Fly, Naked Lunch, Crash, and most frequently and obviously,  Videodrome. Like his main character, Cronenberg has long been an “artist of the inner landscape.” And after several decades of excising that tendency from his work, Cronenberg has come full circle to accept what was inside him all along.

6. Bones and All

In theaters and on VOD

The film follows Maren (an absorbing Taylor Russell, Waves), coming of age on the fringes of Reagan-era America. She meets and slowly falls for another outcast with similar tastes, Lee (Timothée Chalamet), and the two take to the road.

Given what the handsome young lovers have in common, you might expect a sort of meat lovers’ Badlands to follow. But Bones and All is less concerned with the carnage left in a wake than in what’s awakening in these characters themselves. 

Bones and All is a tough one to categorize. I suppose it’s a horror film, a romance, and a road picture – not three labels you often find on the same movie. In Guadagnino’s hands, it’s more than that, though. He embraces the strength of the solid YA theme that you have to be who you are, no matter how ugly the world may tell you that is. You have to be you, bones and all. Finding Maren’s way to that epiphany is heartbreaking and bloody but heroic, too.

5. Pearl

On VOD

Mia Goth has been impressive in every film she’s graced. But nothing prepared us for Pearl.

With her first writing credit and her first no-question-about-it lead performance, Goth delivers an unerring combination of innocence and psychosis that is as captivating as it is terrifying.

The writing is sly and the direction a magically macabre take on classic American cinema, like the most wrong-headed Judy Garland movie you can imagine. But it comes together seamlessly to deliver a concoction spellbinding concoction.

Goth’s 8-minute monologue and that truly insane frozen smile over the end credits will stay with you forever.

4. Hellraiser

On Hulu

Did you know that this is the 11th film in the Hellraiser franchise? There are 10 others, most of them terrible, a couple unwatchable. Why? How could it be so hard to create fresh horror from Clive Barker’s kinky treasure trove? David Bruckner had no trouble peeling the flesh from this franchise and exposing something raw and pulsing.

Jamie Clayton, with a massive thanks to makeup and costume, offers a glorious new image of pain. In fact, the creature design in this film surpasses anything we’ve seen in the previous ten installments, including Barker’s original. Each is a malevolent vision of elegance, gore and suffering, their attire seemingly made of their own flayed flesh.

Bruckner’s core themes replace the S&M leanings with trauma and addiction, following a young addict named Riley (Odessa A’zion) as she ruins everyone and everything she touches. The kinks may be gone, but the chains are still chilling, in a darkly beautiful world full of sensual, bloody delights to show you.

3. Piggy

On VOD

Mean girls are a fixture in cinema, from Mean Girls to CarrieHeathers to Jawbreaker to Napoleon Dynamite and countless others. Why is that? It’s because we like to see mean girls taken down.

Writer/director Carlota Pereda wants to challenge that base instinct. But first, she is going to make you hate Maca (Claudia Salas), Roci (Camille Aguilar) and Claudia (Irene Ferreiro). In one tiny Spanish town, the three girls make Sara’s (Laura Galán, remarkable) life utterly miserable. Like worse than Carrie White’s.

The filmmaker complicates every trope, all the one-dimensional victim/hero/villain ideas this genre and others feast on. Redemption doesn’t come easily to anyone. Pereda also seamlessly blends themes and ideas from across the genre, upending expectations but never skimping on brutal, visceral horror.

2. X

Streaming

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre meets Boogie Nights?

Yes, please!

Filmmaker Ti West delivers an utterly unexpected and absolutely inspired horror show like nothing he’s made before. A group of good-natured pornographers descends upon an out-of-the-way ranch to shoot a movie, unbeknownst to the owners. Mia Goth leads a thoroughly entertaining cast, each actor making the most of the humor crackling throughout West’s script.

West explores some common themes, upending every one without ever betraying his clear love of this genre. Blending homages of plenty of Tobe Hooper films with a remarkable aesthetic instinct, West fills the screen with ghastly beauty.

1.Nope

Streaming

Nope has plenty to say about Black cowboys, the arrogance of spectacle, and getting that elusive perfect shot. There are some truly frightening moments. Some revolve around things you may think you know based on the trailer. Others feature a bloody monkey in a party hat.

Peele’s direction and writing effortlessly mine comedic moments, but Nope is no comedy. He unravels a mystery before your eyes, and his shot-making has never been so on point. The way he splashes color and motion across this arid landscape is stunning. His visual cues—often executed with macabre humor and panache—amplify the film’s themes while inducing anxiety.

It feels a bit like Peele is saying that making a movie will kill you, if you’re lucky. But opening a film with a Biblical passage is no accident, and on a grander scale, Peele has crafted a genre-loving ode to a comeuppance tempted by grandiose delusions.

Fright Club: Best John Carpenter Horror Movies

Our Christmas gift to ourselves this year is a walk through the career of horror master John Carpenter. Yes, we did want to include Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York. But we stayed strong, because we still had to sift through so many genre classics to determine which five would rise to the top.

5. The Fog (1980)

Stevie Wayne (director John Carpenter favorite, at least while they were married, Adrienne Barbeau) does an air shift from a studio in that old lighthouse out on Antonio Bay. But the fog rolling in off the bay is just too thick tonight. It’s as if she’s entirely alone in the world. Can anyone hear her? Will someone go check on her young son?

While a lot does not work in Carpenter’s pirate leper ghost story (leper pirates?!), his first theatrical release after Halloween does hit some of the right marks. The vulnerability of a radio DJ – totally isolated while simultaneously exposed – has never been more palpable than in this film.

Jamie Lee Curtis (another Carpenter favorite) joins her mom Janet Leigh and B-horror legend Tom Atkins to fill out the pool of leper pirate bait. While the film is hardly one of Carpenter’s best, his knack for framing, his voyeuristic camera, and his ability to generate scares with a meager budget are on full display.

4. They Live (1988)

More SciFi and action than horror, still John Carpenter’s vision of an elite class using tech to mollify and control the population of the US was eerily prescient. And horrifying.

At the time, though, it was just plain entertaining in a way that married Carpenter’s own iconic Escape from New York vibe with the SciFi horror miniseries of the day, V.

But mainly, it’s Rowdy Roddy Piper chewing bubble gum, and the 6 1/2 minute fight scene between Piper and undeniable badass Keith David that make this film as fun to watch today as it was when it was released.

3. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Sutter Cane may be awfully close to Stephen King, but John Carpenter’s cosmic horror is even more preoccupied by Lovecraft. The great Sam Neill leads a fun cast in a tale of madness as created by the written world.

What if those horror novels you read became reality? What if that sketchy writer with the maybe-too-vivid imagination was not just got to his own page, but god for real? This movie tackles that ripe premise while ladling love for both of the horror novelists who made New England the creepiest section of America.

2. Halloween (1978)

No film is more responsible for the explosion of teen slashers than John Carpenter’s babysitter butchering classic.

From the creepy opening piano notes to the disappearing body ending, this low budget surprise changed everything. Carpenter develops anxiety like nobody else, and plants it right in a wholesome Midwestern neighborhood. You don’t have to go camping or take a road trip or do anything at all – the boogeyman is right there at home.

Michael Myers – that hulking, unstoppable, blank menace – is scary. Pair that with the down-to-earth charm of lead Jamie Lee Curtis, who brought a little class and talent to the genre, and add the bellowing melodrama of horror veteran Donald Pleasance, and you’ve hit all the important notes. Just add John Carpenter’s spare score to ratchet up the anxiety. Perfect.

1.  The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World concocts a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination, and mutation.

A beard-tastic cast portrays a team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic who take in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

The story remains taut, beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

Fright Club: Nosferatu’s Influence

Happy Halloween! We’re celebrating the holiday and Nosferatu‘s 100th birthday with a look at the movies most influenced by F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece.

5. Dracula (1992)

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus called this film Francis Ford Coppola’s last must-watch. It does look amazing. Gary Oldman and Tom Waits are great, too. Everybody else…

Coppola’s inspiration for the film was Murnau’s masterpiece, which is especially obvious in the opening act. Not only is Oldman styled as a goofy older character, but his shadow seems to move on its own. A clear homage to what Murnau did to such startling effect.

At the heart of the film is a glorious Oldman, who is particularly memorable as the almost goofily macabre pre-London Dracula. Butthe film feels more Hammer than Murnau, as the lovely Sadie Frost joins a slew of nubile vampire women to keep the film simmering. It’s a sloppy stew, but it is just so tasty.

4. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

In the weeks leading up to the Unholy Masquerade – a celebration for Wellington, New Zealand’s surprisingly numerous undead population – a documentary crew begins following four vampire flatmates.

Viago (co-writer/co-director Taika Waititi) – derided by the local werewolf pack as Count Fagula – acts as our guide. He’s joined by Vladislav (co-writer/co-director Jemaine Clement), who describes his look as “dead but delicious.” There’s also Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) – the newbie at only 187 years old – and Petyr. Styled meticulously and delightfully on the old Nosferatu Count Orlock, Petyr is 8000 years old and does whatever he wants.

The filmmakers know how to mine the absurd just as well as they handle the hum drum minutia. The balance generates easily the best mock doc since Christopher Guest.

3. Salem’s Lot (1979)

Tobe Hooper was such an epic choice to direct this made-for-TV event film in 1979. Stephen King’s beloved novel seems an odd fit for network television, especially in Hooper’s delightfully macabre hands.

Though David Soul may have been the draw in ’79, it’s James Mason’s rich and peculiar delivery of every line that kept the film odd and fascinating.

Hooper’s best choice? Going full Orlock with Mr. Barlow!

2. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Also in 1979, Werner Herzog committed his own take on the Murnau masterpiece to film, and what a glorious endeavor that was! Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre looks hypnotic, and his score feels like a haunting ode to the live accompaniment the original might have boasted.

Klaus Kinski effortlessly revives the ratlike presence of Max Schreck, while Herzog’s script teases out a melancholy the original only hinted at. Isabelle Adjani’s heartbroken central figure is the anchor for the film, but Herzog has a great twist up his sleeve to leave a final scene impression.

1. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

E. Elias Merhige revisits F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece Nosferatu with smashing results in Shadow of the Vampire. Wickedly funny and just a little catty, ‘Shadow’ entertains with every frame.

This is the fictional tale of the filming of Nosferatu. Egomaniacal artists and vain actors come together to create Murnau’s groundbreaking achievement in nightmarish authenticity. As they make the movie, they discover the obvious: the actor playing Count Orlok, Max Schreck is, in fact, a vampire.

The film is ingenious in the way it’s developed: murder among a pack of paranoid, insecure backstabbers; the mad artistic genius Murnau directing all the while. And it would have been only clever were it not for Willem Dafoe’s perversely brilliant performance as Schreck. There is a goofiness about his Schreck that gives the otherwise deeply horrible character an oddly endearing quality.

Fright Club: Mean Girls & Bullies in Horror

Horror is about power versus vulnerability. That’s why bullies and mean girls fit so well into the genre. You always hope the vulnerable will overcome. In this genre, there’s always the real worry that evil will overcome. But somehow, bullies and mean girls never stand a chance.

There are so many great ways to spend time with these high school baddies, but here are our five favorites:

5. Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Meg (Katherine Kamhi) was no picnic, but side-ponytail Judy (Karen Fields) is an all-timer when it comes to onscreen bullies. She hates everyone, is mean to everyone, but she really detests poor Angela (Felissa Rose).

“She’s a carpenter’s dream! She’s flat as a board and needs a screw!”

Like all mean girls in horror, Judy gets what’s coming to her. Still, you have to respect that ponytail.

4. It (2017)

Man, the kids of Derry have it rough long before the circus comes to Derry. Between Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his powerful mullet and the girls dumping wet garbage on Beverly, nobody’s safe. The Losers Club really brings them out of the woodwork.

In fact, they save Mike Hanlon’s life, which bonds the group through the real clown show. Maybe this is what made each of these kids tough enough to withstand he real clown show.

3. Let the Right One In (2008)

Sure, we know Conny learned to be a bully from his older brother, Martin. Maybe Martin learned it from his dad or something. But Oskar’s had just about enough of it.

Unfortunately, Oskar’s not as good at defending himself as he’d like to think he is once big brother shows up. Not that he really needs to defend himself anymore. In one of the greatest bully comeuppance sequences in all horror, Eli shows Oskar what friends are for.

2. Piggy (2020)

Carlota Pereda complicates the mean girl trope in this brutal, moving, amazing Spanish horror film. Sarah is targeted by town mean girl Maca (Clauda Salas). Roci (Camille Aguilar) is almost as bad, but it’s Claudia (Irene Ferreiro) who really breaks Sarah’s heart. It wasn’t long ago, they were friends. Now Claudia is willing to taunt, humiliate, and in one instance, nearly drown “Piggy”.

Maybe that’s why Sarah does what she does when the three girls are taken. That is to say, maybe that’s why Sarah doesn’t do what she doesn’t do.

1. Carrie (1976)

What else? Is there a more tragic scene? Is there a scene that better establishes a character, a context, or horror?

De Palma films the scene in question, appropriately enough, like a tampon commercial, all cheesecloth and beautific music. And then Carrie White (Oscar-nominated Sissy Spacek) desperately claws at her classmates, believing she is dying. It’s the most authentic image of vulnerability and terror you can imagine, matched in its horror by the reaction she receives from those she seeks: laughter, mockery and contempt.

The result is the ultimate in mean girl cinema and an introduction to a nearly perfect horror film.

Fright Club: Satanists in Horror

It’s time to sift through that bountiful gift that is satanic horror. So many movies! So many black masses! So many purple robes, goat’s heads, high priests!! So many, indeed, that we had to leave off a ton of really great movies, so even though they didn’t make the final list, be sure to check out Ready or Not, Brotherhood of Satan, Race with the Devil, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Prince of Darkness, House of the Devil, The Sentinel, The Devil Rides Out, and the brilliant short film Born Again.

5. The Day of the Beast (1995)

Funny, startling and wildly irreverent, Alex de la Iglesia’s dip into Satanism is a giddy experience. It’s not just great Satanism horror, it’s an excellent Christmas movie!

A priest, a Satanist and a charlatan comb the city of Madrid on Christmas Eve in search of the birth ritual of the Antichrist. Their hijinx are feverish and frantic in a transgressively funny horror tale.

Gleefully gory mayhem suits the outlandish performances, together driving one of the gruesome auteur’s very best.

4. Angel Heart (1987)

In Angel Heart, director Alan Parker develops a steamy atmosphere as we follow private dick Harold Angel (Mickey Rourke) through the bowels of New Orleans in search of information on missing crooner Johnny Favorite.

Rourke’s work is key to the film’s unseemly feel. Angel’s sympathetic and full of a disheveled charm. You’re sorry for him even as you know he’s outmatched and probably undeserving of your pity. He knows it, too, and that’s what makes the performance so strong.

Plus there’s the sheer diabolical presence of an understated Robert DeNiro. His well-manicured and articulate Louis Cyphre perfectly balances Rourke’s handsome slob, and both fit beautifully into this sultry version of 1955.

Deceptively bloody, unusually classy, effortlessly creepy, Angel Heart stays under your skin. Maybe it’s the casual evil, the lurid atmosphere. Maybe it’s De Niro’s understated menace, with those long nails and that hardboiled egg.

3. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

Winter break approaches at a Catholic New England boarding school. Snow piles up outside, the buildings empty, yet Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) remain. One has tricked her parents for an extra day with her townie boyfriend. One remains under more mysterious circumstances.

Things in writer/director Oz Perkins’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter quietly unravel from there – although quiet is not precisely the word for it. There is a stillness to the chilly, empty halls. But thanks to the filmmaker’s brother Elvis, whose disquieting score fills these empty spaces with buzzing, whispering white noise, a sinister atmosphere is born.

Perkins repays your patience and attention. There are loads of sinister little clues to find.

2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Along with Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976), Rosemary’s Baby is part of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” – disturbing films of tension and horror in which metropolitan life and nosey neighbors conspire to drive a person mad.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Polanski takes all the glamour out of Satanism – with a huge assist from Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her turn as the highly rouged busybody Minnie Castevet. By now we all know what happens to poor Rosemary Woodhouse, but back in’69, thanks much to Mia Farrow’s vulnerable performance, the film boiled over with paranoid tension. Was poor, pregnant Rosemary losing it, or was she utterly helpless and in evil hands?

1. The Witch (2015)

The unerring authenticity of The Witch made it the most unnerving horror film in years.

Every opportunity writer/director Roger Eggers has to make an obvious choice he discards, though not a single move feels inauthentic. Rather, every detail – whether lurid or mundane – feels peculiarly at home here. Even the most supernatural elements in the film feel appallingly true because of the reality of this world, much of which is owed to journals and documents of the time, from which Eggers pulled complete sections of dialog.

As frenzy and paranoia feed on ignorance and helplessness, tensions balloon to bursting. You are trapped as this family is trapped in an inescapable mess, where man’s overanxious attempt to purge himself absolutely of his capacity for sin only opens him up to the true evil lurking, as it always is, in the woods.

Fright Club: Mainstream Directors Making Horror

Exciting all MaddWolf Pack episode! Daniel Baldwin, aka The Schlocketeer, and Brandon Thomas join us to talk about a topic we stole from their Twitter conversation: which directors not known for horror made the best horror movies?

Be sure to listen because Daniel and Brandon both bring much knowledge (plus extra movie titles!) to the conversation. But here’s our Top 5:

5. Nosferatu, the Vampire (1979, Werner Herzog)

Sure, it’s another Dracula, but because it’s another Dracula by way of Murnau’s masterpiece Nosferatu, and it’s written and directed by the great Werner Herzog, it’s weird and wonderful.

Herzog uses the imagery Murnau created – in particular, the naked mole rat of a vampire – to turn vampirism into a pestilence to evoke the Black Plague of Europe. Klaus Kinski is that naked mole rat, and he is glorious.

Isabelle Adjani is the pure of heart maiden who is his undoing, but the way Herzog reimagines Jonathan Harker gives the film a cynical twist that feels like a surprise within this dreamlike adaptation. Gorgeous location shooting and an astonishing score help Herzog create a suffocating but captivating atmosphere.

4. The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise)

Coming off the big epics of The Sound of Music and West Side Story, no one would have expected the intimate psychological horror of Robert Wise’s The Haunting.

Shirley Jackson fans have to appreciate the way the film remains true to her vision of horror. Fans of horror have to appreciate Wise’s unbelievable knack for generating terror with sound design and imagination.

Yes, the performances are magnificent – especially Julie Harris, whose bitter Eleanor is picture perfect. But Wise’s mastery of form is what makes this G-rated film a lasting terror.

3. Hour of the Wolf (1968, Ingmar Bergman)

Like all Bergman films, this hypnotic, surreal effort straddles lines of reality and unreality and aches with existential dread. But Bergman and his star, Max von Sydow, cross over into territory of the hallucinatory and grotesque, calling to mind ideas of vampires, insanity and bloodlust as one man confronts repressed desires as he awaits the birth of his child.

As wonderful as von Sydow is as the central figure, a man spiraling toward insanity, it’s the heartbreaking Liv Ullman who owns this movie. Heartbreaking, solid, and the most unusual combination of strength and weakness, her Alma grounds the surreal elements of the movie.

The result is gorgeous, spooky, and so very sad. It’s one of the most underappreciated films of Bergman’s career.

2. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

You know who you probably shouldn’t hire to look after your hotel?
Jack Nicholson.

A study in atmospheric tension, Kubrick’s vision of the Torrance family collapse at the Overlook Hotel is both visually and aurally meticulous. It opens with that stunning helicopter shot, following Jack Torrance’s little yellow Beetle up the mountainside, the ominous score announcing a foreboding that the film never shakes.

The hypnotic, innocent sound of Danny Torrance’s Big Wheel against the weirdly phallic patterns of the hotel carpet tells so much – about the size of the place, about the monotony of the existence, about hidden perversity. The sound is so lulling that its abrupt ceasing becomes a signal of spookiness afoot.

Nicholson outdoes himself. His early, veiled contempt blossoms into pure homicidal mania, and there’s something so wonderful about watching Nicholson slowly lose his mind. Between writer’s block, isolation, ghosts, alcohol withdrawal, midlife crisis, and “a momentary loss of muscular coordination,” the playfully sadistic creature lurking inside this husband and father emerges.

He’s not the caretaker management expected, but really, was Grady? Like Grady and Lloyd the bartender, Jack Torrance is a fixture here at the Overlook.

1. Silence of the lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)

It’s to director Jonathan Demme’s credit that Silence made that leap from lurid exploitation to art. His masterful composition of muted colors and tense but understated score, his visual focus on the characters rather than their actions, and his subtle but powerful use of camera elevate this story above its exploitative trappings. Of course, the performances didn’t hurt.

Hannibal Lecter ranks as one of cinema’s scariest villains, and that accomplishment owes everything to Anthony Hopkins’s performance. It’s his eerie calm, his measured speaking, his superior grin that give Lecter power. Everything about his performance reminds the viewer that this man is smarter than you and he’ll use that for dangerous ends.

Demme makes sure it’s Lecter that gets under our skin in the way he creates a parallel between Lecter and FBI investigator Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). It’s Clarice we’re all meant to identify with, and yet Demme suggests that she and Lecter share some similarities, which means that maybe we share some, too.

Fright Club: Killer Clothing in Horror Movies

We wanted to call this Dressed to Kill, but that would just be confusing. No, this is not about dressing the part [or about horror’s terrible history of confusing sexual orientation with psychosis]. Nope. This is about actual killer clothing.

5. The Red Shoes (2005)

In 2005, Kim Yong-gyun updated the old, horrifying Hans Christian Anderson story of vanity. Do you know that one? Spoiled girl with pretty red shoes is cursed so the shoes never stop dancing, her only relief is to have her feet cut off? Excellent children’s fare!

Like a lot of Asian horror of the time, the film follows a newly single woman and her daughter as they move into a shabby new apartment before finding a cursed object – in this case, shoes that are actually pink.

Though Sun-jai (Kim Hye-soo) brought home the discarded pair she found at the subway for herself, it’s her daughter (Park Yeon-ah) who becomes obsessed with them. Too bad they keep killing people!

There’s the obligatory sleuthing into the mysterious curse, but the filmmaker keeps you guessing, keeps the blood flowing, and comes up with a solidly creepy little gem.

4. Deerskin (2019)

What makes a good midlife crisis? What gives it swagger? Physicality? Style? Maybe a little fringe?

Deerskin.

Welcome to another bit of lunacy from filmmaker Quentin Dupieux. As he did with 2010’s Rubber (a sentient tire on a cross-country rampage), Dupieux sets up one feature-length joke.

It’s funny, though.

Deerskin is also slyly autobiographical in a way Dupieux’s other films are not. An odd duck wants to follow his vision (in this case, the obsessive love of a deerskin jacket) and make a movie. Creative partnerships and collaboration, while possibly necessary, also soil the vision and make the filmmaker feel dumb.

No one understands him!

Or maybe they do and his ruse is up.

No matter. He still has killer style.

3. Slaxx (2020)

Absurdism meets consumerism in co-writer/director Elza Kephart’s bloody comedy, Slaxx.

Sehar Bhojani steals every scene as the cynical Shruti, but the jeans are the real stars here. Kephart finds endlessly entertaining ways to sic them on unsuspecting wearers.

Where Romero mainly pointed fingers at the hordes mindlessly drawn to stores like CCC, Kephart sees the villains as those perpetuating clean corporate hypocrisy. Still, it’s their customers and workers she murders—by the pantload.

2. Clown (2014)

Sympathetic, surprising, and often very uncomfortable, Jon (Spider-Man franchise) Watts’s horror flick, though far from perfect, does an excellent job of morphing that lovable party favorite into the red-nosed freak from your nightmares.

Because clowns are terrifying.

Kent (a pitiful Andy Powers) stumbles across a vintage clown outfit in an estate property he’s fitting for resale. Perfect timing – his son’s birthday party is in an hour. What a surprise this will be, unless the suit is cursed in some way and will slowly turn Kent into a child-eating demon.

It does! Hooray!!!

1. In Fabric (2018)

My last note after watching In Fabric: “Well, that was weird.”

Weird in a good way. The film follows a red Ambassadorial Function Dress and the havoc it wreaks on its wearers.

Strickland, apparently, is about as fond of consumerism as Romero or Cronenberg. He’s also as fond of the color red as Argento. Unlike the giallo films that clearly inform Strickland’s aesthetic, here commerce, not violence itself, is the seductive, sexualized element.

Nobody blends giallo’s surrealistic seduction with dry British wit (two elements that, to be honest, should not fit together at all) like Peter Strickland. Subversive and playful while boasting a meticulous obsession with the exploitation films of the Seventies, Strickland creates vintage-futuristic fantasies that live outside of time and evoke both nostalgia and wonder.