Fright Club: Best Friends in Horror

Friends to the end – that’s the whole idea when horror filmmakers tackle friendship, isn’t it? Can they be trusted? Who will sacrifice what, and will it be worth it? Or are they both evil? Horror cinema has an excellent run of best friends in movies, but we’re looking at movies specifically about that friendship. Movies like Shaun of the Dead and Jennifer’s Body. (Both brilliant, but not on the list. We know! There are a lot of great ones!) So let’s get to it!

5. Bedevilled (2010)

Cheol-soo Jang’s first feature film bears witnesses not only to some horrific deeds, but to an amazingly confident new filmmaker who knows how to sidestep expectations, turn the screw, and offer surprising insight in a genre that doesn’t always generate that kind of thoughtfulness.

The film opens as beautiful if cold Hae-won (Sung-won Ji) witnesses a crime and chooses not to involve herself. She takes a (somewhat involuntary) vacation on the remote island where she grew up, to find her childhood friend Bok-nam (Young-hee Seo). On the isolated, backward island – though Hae-won is treated to rest and nurturing by her adoring friend – Bok-nam’s life is about as far from ideal as possible.

Jang captures the rugged, isolated beauty of the island and offsets both ideas with his leads – one, an elegant and pristine beauty, the other a rough-hewn image – and sees two sides of the same humanity. This is a morality tale, but it’s also a brutal but sympathetic (and seriously bloody) comeuppance. Jang does not leave off where you think he might, instead crafting a compelling and satisfying whole that will stick with you.

4. Tragedy Girls (2017)

Heathers meets Scream in the savvy horror-comedy that mines social media culture to truly entertaining effect.

Besties Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are looking for more followers to improve their brand, and they have been doing a lot of research to make their content more compelling. The Tragedy Girls plumb their small Ohio town’s surprising death toll with more insight than the local police seem to have. Where do they get their knowledge?

Provocative.

Hildebrand and Shipp (both X-Men; Hildebrand was the moody Negasonic in Deadpool while Shipp plays young Storm in the franchise proper) nail their characters’ natural narcissism. Is it just the expectedly shallow, self-centeredness of the teenage years, or are they sociopaths? Who can tell these days?

3. Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010)

Horror cinema’s most common and terrifying villain may not be the vampire or even the zombie, but the hillbilly. The generous, giddy Tucker and Dale vs. Evil lampoons that dread with good-natured humor and a couple of rubes you can root for.

In the tradition of Shaun of the DeadT&DVE lovingly sends up a familiar subgenre with insightful, self-referential humor, upending expectations by taking the point of view of the presumably villainous hicks. And it happens to be hilarious.

Two backwoods best buds (an endearing Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) head to their mountain cabin for a weekend of fishing. En route, they meet some college kids on their own camping adventure. A comedy of errors, misunderstandings and subsequent, escalating violence follows as the kids misinterpret every move Tucker and Dale make.

T&DVE offers enough spirit and charm to overcome most weaknesses. Inspired performances and sharp writing make it certainly the most fun participant in the You Got a Purty Mouth class of film.

2. Let the Right One In (2008)

In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flicks in years. A spooky coming-of-age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure.

Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut needs a friend. he finds one in the odd new girl (an outstanding Lina Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. She, as it turns out, needs him even more.

This is a coming-of-age film full of life lessons and adult choices, told with a tremendous atmosphere of melancholy, tainted innocence, and isolation. Plus the best swimming pool carnage scene ever.

The unsettling scene is so uniquely handled, not just for horrifying effect (which it certainly achieves), but to reinforce the two main characters, their bond, and their roles. It’s beautiful, like the strangely lovely film itself.

1.  They Look Like People (2015)

Christian (Evan Dumouchel) is killing it. He’s benching 250 now, looks mussed but handsome as he excels at work, and he’s even gotten up the nerve to ask out his smokin’ hot boss. On his way home from work to change for that date he runs into his best friend from childhood, Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews), who’s looking a little worse for wear. Christian doesn’t care. With just a second’s reluctance, Christian invites him in – to his apartment, his date, and his life.

But there is something seriously wrong with Wyatt.

Writer/director Perry Blackshear’s film nimbly treads the same ground as the wonderful Frailty and the damn near perfect Take Shelter in that he uses sympathetic characters and realistic situations to blur the line between mental illness and the supernatural.

Wyatt believes there is a coming demonic war and he’s gone to rescue his one true friend. Andrews is sweetly convincing as the shell shocked young man unsure as to whether his head is full of bad wiring, or whether his ex-fiance has demon fever.

The real star here, though, is Dumouchel, whose character arc shames you for your immediate assessment. Blackshear examines love – true, lifelong friendship – in a way that has maybe never been explored as authentically in a horror film before. It’s this genuineness, this abiding tenderness Christian and Wyatt have for each other, that makes the film so moving and, simultaneously, so deeply scary.

Fright Club: Fathers and Daughters in Horror

Familial relationships can be a killer – especially in the hands of horror filmmakers. This week we look at the fraught relationships between fathers and daughters in horror movies.

5. We Are What We Are (2013, American)

As in Jorge Michel Grau’s original, one family’s religious custom is thrown into havoc when the family leader dies unexpectedly, leaving the ritual unfinished and the children left to determine who will take over. Both films look at a particularly religious family as a sort of tribe that evolved separately but within the larger population. Grau has better instincts for mining this paradigm to expose the flaws of the larger population, but Mickel takes an American Gothic tone to create an eerily familiar darkness that treads on common urbanite fears.

The always exceptional Michael Parks plays a gentle, rural doctor heartbroken over the years-old disappearance of his daughter and intrigued by some grisly bits unearthed by the recent flood. Meanwhile, the devout and desperate Parker family prepares for Lamb’s Day.

The film sets a tone that sneaks up and settles over you, like the damp from a flood. Mickel proves adept with traditional horror storytelling, casting aside any flash in favor of smothering atmosphere and a structure that slowly builds tension, and the impressive climax is worth the wait.

4. Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Dad himself isn’t even in this film, but what Dracula’s Daughter does well is to depict the hold parents can have on us – if taken to beautifully melodramatic and metaphorical extremes.

Gloria Holden is the hypnotic and almost despondent daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska. After Von Helsing (spelled with an “o” in this movie for some reason) kills the Count, the Countess travels to London to steal the body, hoping to perform a ritual that would cure her of her own awful thirst.

Holden is wonderful, as is Nan Grey as the Countess’s first victim. Lambert Hillyer’s film suggests lesbianism as the shameful curse that can’t be cured – as many a Dracula film has pointed toward homoeroticism as the true curse of vampirism. Thanks to Holden’s melancholy performance, though, instead of feeling like some unwholesome threat, Marya’s desire for women feels more like something her father and now society has made her believe is shameful.

3. Train to Busan (2016)

We are always, always interested when a filmmaker can take the zombie genre in a new direction. Very often, that direction is fun, funny, political—but not necessarily scary. Co-writer/director Sang-ho Yeon combines the claustrophobia of Snakes on a Plane with the family drama of Host, then trusts young Su-An Kim to shoulder the responsibility of keeping us breathlessly involved. It works.

Kim plays Soo-an, a wee girl on a train with her overworked, under-attentive father (Gong Yoo). They are headed to her mother’s. The filmmaker will teach Dad what’s important in this life.

Sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, always exciting and at least once a heartbreaker, Train to Busan succeeds on every front.

2. Oldboy (2003)

A guy passes out after a hard night of drinking. It’s his daughter’s birthday, and that helps us see that this guy is a dick. He’s definitely not much of a father. He wakes up a prisoner in a weird, apartment-like cell. Here he stays for years and years.

The guy is Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi). The film is Oldboy, director Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece of subversive brutality and serious wrongdoing.

Choi is unforgettable as the film’s anti-hero, and his disheveled explosion of emotion is perfectly balanced by the elegantly evil Ji-tae Yu.

Choi takes you with him through a brutal, original, startling and difficult to watch mystery. You will want to look away, but don’t do it! What you witness will no doubt shake and disturb you, but missing it would be the bigger mistake.

1. The Host (2006)

Visionary director Bong Joon Ho’s film opens in a military lab hospital in 2000. A clearly insane American doctor, repulsed by the dust coating formaldehyde bottles, orders a Korean subordinate to empty it all into the sink. Soon the contents of hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde find its way through the Korean sewer system and into the Han River. This event – allegedly based on fact – eventually leads, not surprisingly, to some pretty gamey drinking water. And also a 25 foot cross between Alien and a giant squid.

Said monster – let’s call him Steve Buscemi (the beast’s actual on-set nickname) – exits the river one bright afternoon in 2006 to run amuck in a very impressive outdoor-chaos-and-bloodshed scene. A dimwitted food stand clerk (Joon Ho regular Kang-ho Song) witnesses his daughter’s abduction by the beast, and the stage is set.

What follows, rather than a military attack on a marauding Steve Buscemi, is actually one small, unhappy, bickering family’s quest to find and save the little girl. Their journey takes them to poorly organized quarantines, botched security checkpoints, misguided military/Red Cross posts, and through Seoul’s sewer system, all leading to a climactic battle even more impressive than the earlier scene of afternoon chaos.

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Fright Club: Aging in Horror Movies

Horror filmmakers have long focused their preoccupations with mortality o the act of death itself, perhaps what happens afterward. But there are those whose real worry is quite the opposite – rather than leaving a beautiful young corpse, it’s the idea of the long, slow death of aging. Here are our favorite movies on the horrors of aging – but first, a little PSA on a movie of our own!

Obstacle Corpse

We also used our latest episode to announce our own movie!

After she gets an invite to a mysterious pro-am obstacle course race, unprepared teen Sunny enters with her goofy best friend, Ezra, in a last-chance shot at proving herself to her survivalist dad. But when bloody bedlam breaks out and the pros start murdering their “plus-ones,” Sunny must finally find her killer instinct before she and Ezra end up coming in dead last.

Please help us reach the finish line and support a woman-led, smart horror comedy!

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/obstacle-corpse-a-horror-comedy/x/27088906#/

5. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

A fear of aging hangs over this film and story, but not simply of impending death but of the ravages of sin, guilt and shame. Due to some magical mystery, the beautiful young man never ages, although a painting of him not only shows his true age, it shows every ugly thing he’s ever done. As Gray stalks London indulging in debauchery, treachery and all things foul, his painting grows more and more grotesque.

We knew there would be a Dorian Gray somewhere in this list, but we’d originally planned to go with Oliver Parker’s 2009 film Dorian Gray starring Ben Barnes, Colin Firth and Rebecca Hall, mainly because it’s far more of a horror film than the 1945 film from Albert Lewin.

But upon rewatch, there was something so gorgeously unsettling in the way this film avoids specificity. That, and George Sanders, who was better at playing a cad than any actor of his time. Clearly the onscreen personification of source writer Oscar Wilde, Sanders gets all the best lines and delivers the film’s unnerving themes perfectly.

     

4. Daughters of Darkness (1971)

It was also pretty clear that we’d have to choose a vampire film for the list, as those tales are so very often about the lengths a body will go to fend off aging. It could have been Fright Night, it almost was The Hunger, but in the end we are lured by our favorite Countess Bathory tale, Harry Kümel’s languid classic Daughters of Darkness.

It’s a film about indulgence and drowsy lustfulness, and Delphine Seyrig is perfection as the Countess who drains others to keep her youth.

Seyrig’s performance lends the villain a tragic loveliness that makes her the most endearing figure in the film. Everybody else feels mildly unpleasant, a sinister bunch who seem to be hiding things. The husband, in particular, is a suspicious figure, and a bit peculiar. Kind of a dick, really – and Bathory, for one, has no time for dicks.

3. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

Even though we just talked about this one when we covered librarians in horror, we couldn’t leave it off this list. The Ray Bradbury classic, penned for the screen by the author and directed by Jack Clayton (The Innocents), the movie uses notalgia to its benefit because its very purpose is to seduce those longing for their lost youth.

The movie’s greatest strength, though, is the casting of its true hero, Jason Robards as librarian Charles Halloway, and its villain, Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark. (The entire adult cast is amazing, actually.) These two veterans go toe to toe in one scene, where Mr. Dark’s evil and Halloway’s goodness are on full display. It’s the kind of scene talented actors must crave, and these to make the most of it.

2. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

Horror filmmakers look at aging in a very specific way. Brilliant movies like Natalie Erika James’s Relic and Bryan Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked saw it through the eyes of those who are watching their own ugly future.

Adam Robitel’s Alzheimer’s horror does the same. Its horror is less muted, though, and it works as well as it does because of a fantastic performance from Jill Larson as the aging, vulnerable, terrifying Deborah.

Anne Ramsay is nearly her equal, playing Deborah’s daughter who allows a student documentary crew in to make a movie aimed at raising awareness around the disease. What they find is a sometimes clunky but never ineffective metaphor for watching the person who has loved you more than anyone on earth turn into a demon.

1. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Who wants to see Bruce Campbell play Elvis Presley?! We do.

Director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) brings Joe R. Lansdale’s short story to the screen to depict the horror and sadness of aging, although its done with such humor that the film is impossible not to love.

Elvis never died, he swapped places with an impersonator who died and ever since then he’s been stuck living someone else’s life. And now he’s been stuck in this low-rent old folks home where his only real friend is a guy who believes he’s JFK (Ossie Davis). Obviously, when they realize that the recent spate of patient deaths is due to a mummy sucking the life from people through their assholes, who’d believe these knuckleheads?

The script is great and Coscarelli knows exactly how to make the most of budgetary limitations. The entire cast soars, but Campbell and Davis have such incredible chemistry that the film delivers not just laughs, message, and some scares but genuine tenderness.

Fright Club: Librarians in Horror

It’s back to school time, which makes it the perfect time to check back in with the Reel Librarian, Jennifer Snoek-Brown. With her help and deep reserves of information, we count down the very best librarians horror has in store.

5) The Monks  (Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, 1993)

Not a great movie, which is especially disappointing considering its pedigree. Segments in the Lovecraft anthology are directed by Christoph Ganz (Brotherhood of the Wolf), Brian Yuzna (Society) and Shûsuke Kaneko (Death Note).

Still, the wraparound story The Library – directed by Yuzna and starring that filmmaker’s favorite and ours, Jeffrey Combs – is much fun. Combs plays Lovecraft himself, visiting a very private library run by peculiar monks. He’s doing research. Or is he stealing the librarian’s key with hopes of finding the Necronomicon?

That is totally what he’s doing, and it’s a blast. Combs is great, but Tony Azito as the bemused/annoyed librarian is the real star here.

4) Edgar – Laurence Payne (The Tell-Tale Heart, 1960)

Are you a Poe fan? Well, it won’t matter because Ernest Morris’s period thriller bears little resemblance to Edgar’s classic.

So why include it? Because the murderer is a librarian! Laurence Payne plays brittle Edgar, a reference librarian who’s taken with his new neighbor, Betty (Adrienne Corri). He doesn’t know how to talk to women, but his best friend Carl (Dermot Walsh) sure does! And my, how Carl’s heart does beat loudly.

Corri’s exceptional in this film, but Payne is unlikable, entitled, perverted gold. This is an incel movie before we even knew what incel was.

3) Evan – Tomas Arana (The Church, 1989)

Michele Soavi’s dreamy gothic Giallo, co-penned by Dario Argento and co-starring a very young Asia Argento – is no masterpiece. It is endlessly watchable nonsense, though.

Evan (Tomas Arana) shows up late for his first day as cathedral librarian, stopping to flirt with fresco restorer Lisa (Barbara Cupisti) before heading into the library where he will be brazenly lazy and more than a little creepy.

The film takes on the dreamlike logic of a Fulci without losing the more pristine visuals that mark Argento’s earlier films. Its underlying themes are kind of appalling (wait, we’re good with the inquisitors who murdered that village?), but it looks great.

2) Evie – Rachel Weisz (The Mummy, 1999)

Is it a horror movie? Well, it is a monster movie, so close enough. Stephen Sommers’s 1999 swashbuckler boasted fun FX, an excellent villain, the newly beloved Brendan Fraser, and one kick-ass librarian.

Rachel Weisz, more attractive than ought to be allowable, plays Evie Carnahan. Her opening segment of destruction in the library itself is sheer visual poetry, but she’s more than brains and clumsiness. Evie stands up for herself, outsmarts bad guys, accidentally reanimates ancient evil, and really loves her job.

1) Halloway – Jason Robards (Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1983)

There’s a reason Evie Carnahan and Charles Halloway top our list of librarians in horror. Because they are heroes, as are all librarians.

Jack Clayton’s take on Ray Bradbury wields nostalgia with melancholy precision, recognizes time as the enemy, and boasts exceptional performances from its villain Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark, and its hero, Jason Robards as town librarian and all-around good guy, Charles Halloway. The fact that the final showdown takes place right in the library is the icing on the cake.

Fright Club: Angels in Horror

They’re powerful, beautiful, but not necessarily benevolent. Horror filmmakers have made great use of the heavenly hosts. Sometimes they arrive to protect us. Sometimes they don’t. Here are our five favorite horror films to bring heaven to earth.

5. The Exorcist III (1990)

Yes, this movie made the list based on a single scene. But that scene is so good! Fabio is an angel, wings and all. Patrick Ewing is the angel of death! There’s a quick glimpse of a young Samuel L. Jackson, and George C. Scott chooses a strangely upbeat delivery for the line, “I’m so sorry you were murdered, Thomas. I miss you.”

It’s a dream sequence, a foreboding scene in which Kinderman (Scott) meanders through a holding station between life and afterlife. The piece is weird, a bit gruesome and gorgeous. Its tone and look differ wildly from the rest of the film, but incredible nonetheless.

4. He Never Died (2015)

With a funny shuffle step and a blank stare, Henry Rollins announces Jack, anti-hero of the noir/horror mash-up He Never Died, as an odd sort.

Jack, you see, has kind of always been here. The “here” in question at the moment is a dodgy one-bedroom, walking distance from the diner where he eats and the church where he plays bingo. An exciting existence, no doubt, but this mindlessness is disturbed by a series of events: an unexpected visit, a needed ally with an unfortunate bookie run-in, and a possible love connection with a waitress.

From the word go, He Never Died teems with deadpan humor and unexpected irony. Casting Rollins in the lead, for instance, suggests something the film actively avoids: energy. The star never seethes, and even his rare hollers are muted, less full of anger than primal necessity.

3. The Prophecy (1995)

Writer/director Gregory Widen’s fascinating story about a war in heaven over God’s spoiled little meat puppets was a wild, innovative concept with a breathtaking cast: Christopher Walken, Virginia Madsen, Viggo Mortensen, Eric Stoltz, Elias Koteas, Adam Goldberg, Amanda Plummer.

So, is it on Widen that the movie is kind of terrible?

Terrible in an incredibly fun and watchable way, though. Somehow the unusually talent-stacked cast doesn’t feel wasted as much as it does weirdly placed.

There is no question this film belongs to Christopher Walken as the angel Gabriel. (Why are filmmakers so willing to believe Gabe will turn evil?) His natural weirdness and uncanny comic timing make the film more memorable than it deserves to be, but when it comes to sinister, Viggo Mortensen cuts quite a figure as Lucifer. Don’t forget, he was an angel, too.

2. Frailty (2001)

Back in 1980, Bill “We’re toast! Game over!” Paxton directed the short music video Fish Heads. Triumph enough, you say? Correct. But in 2001 he took a stab at directing the quietly disturbing supernatural thriller Frailty, with equally excellent results.

Paxton stars as a widowed, bucolic country dad awakened one night by an angel – or a bright light shining off the angel on top of a trophy on his ramshackle bedroom bookcase. Whichever – he understands now that he and his sons have been called by God to kill demons.

Dread mounts as Paxton drags out the ambiguity over whether this man is insane, and his therefore good-hearted but wrong-headed behavior profoundly damaging his boys. Or could he really be chosen, and his sons likewise marked by God?

Brent Hanley’s sly screenplay evokes such nostalgic familiarity – down to a Dukes of Hazzard reference – and Paxton’s direction makes you feel entirely comfortable in these common surroundings. Then the two of them upend everything – repeatedly – until it’s as if they’ve challenged your expectations, biases, and your own childhood to boot.

1. A Dark Song (2016)

Writer/director Liam Gavin also begins his story by dropping us breathless and drowning in a mother’s grief. Sophia (Catherine Walker) will do anything at all just to hear her 6-year-old son’s voice again. She will readily commit to whatever pain, discomfort or horror required of her by the occultist (Steve Oram) who will perform the ritual to make it happen.

Anything except the forgiveness ritual.

What Gavin and his small but committed cast create is a shattering but wonderful character study. Walker never stoops to sentimentality, which is likely what makes the climax of the film so heartbreaking and wonderful.

Fright Club: Workout Horror

An ode to cautionary tales, this episode points out all the great reasons to just skip the gym. Those muscles aren’t going to do you any good if you are dead—seriously, hideously broken, bloody and dead. We enlist the aid of Rewatch Podcast’s Cory Metcalfe to help us work through the best in workout horror.

5. Final Destination 3 (2006)

Director James Wong returned after missing Episode 2 and picked up right where he left off: fun and horrifying Rube Goldbergs of Death.

A young Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars ad Wendy Christensen, she of the premonition about shoddy workmanship on that roller coaster. Naturally, those she saves are on Death’s list now. These films are not rocket science. A group of people cheats death. One by one, Death comes a callin’.

The fun is seeing how each demise works itself out. And Lewis (played by Texas Battle – that is a name!) gets it good.

4. Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

Director J. Lee Thompson had seen better days (Cape Fear, Guns of Navarone), but this switcheroo slasher boasts a weird vibe that makes it compelling.

It also contains a very early workout death scene. We all knew Greg had to go, and how fitting that this vane elitist got his on a workout bench. If he’d thought for one second just to drop the weights on the ground over his head…but Greg wasn’t exactly known for smarts.

3. Tragedy Girls (2017)

DirectorTyler MacIntyre’s whole approach in this film is pitch-perfect. Stars Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp bring these bestie characters to vibrant life and the story around them is whip-smart and funny.

Speaking of funny, Craig Robinson has little more than a cameo, but he brings that Craig Robinson vibe, making this particular workout scene an uncomfortable comedic gem.

2. The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Melvin Junko’s whole life was a workout horror. Put upon and picked on, this little janitor only wanted to get his work done.

The Troma classic—awaiting an unbelievably well cast reboot from director Macon Blair—clearly had to be part of this list. Seeing Toxie finally get revenge on those Tromaville health club bullies.

1. Final Destination 5

Director Steven Quale’s prequel may be the best of the Final Destination bunch. The 3D horror takes full advantage of the intricate death sequences—especially the opening bridge set piece. Nice!

It helps that writer Eric Heisserer (Arrival, Birdbox, Lights Out, The Thing remake) knows how to write. The 5th installment feels less like a return to the well and more like an interesting riff on destiny. It also has some great support work from Tony Todd, Courtney B. Vance and David Koechner.

But we’re here to watch Candace die.

Fright Club: Broadcast Horror

Broadcasting—TV, radio, podcasts—offer plentiful opportunities for horror. You have the good broadcasts, where an important message is being delivered to the right people: The Fog, I Am Legend, A Quiet Place Part II, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. And, of course, there are the evil broadcasts: Lords of Salem, Trick or Treat, The Cleansing Hour.

There are also two (well, three really)N utterly brilliant films with very particular broadcasts that are difficult to come by. We narrowed the list to broadcasts aimed at as many people as can be affected, and for that reason alone we’ve left off Poltergeist and Ring/Ringu.

So here are the five best ways horror filmmakers found to wreak havoc over the airwaves.

5. 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.

4. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Man, people did not like this movie when it came out. After two massive blockbusters kicking off the franchise, somebody decided to make a Halloween movie without Michael Myers. It would go on to be one of the most beloved cult movies of all time.

Is the storyline confused? Well, its mythology—Celts and Stonehenge and shamrocks and Halloween masks and blah blah blah—but the point is Tom Atkins, isn’t it? Plus the main plot points: kids wear the masks, they watch the commercial, they hear that creepy jingle, and their heads effing melt.

Now that’s showbusiness.

3. The Signal (2007)

A transmission – a hypnotic frequency – broadcasting over TV, cell and landline telephones has driven the good folks of the city of Terminus crazy. David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry created a film in three segments, or transmissions.

Transmission 1 introduces our lover heroes as well as the chaos. Can Mya (Anessa Ramsey) and Ben (Justin Welborn) remain sane, reunite and outrun the insanity?

Transmission 2 takes a deeply, darkly funny turn as we pick up on the illogical logic of a houseful of folks believing themselves not to have “the crazy.” The final transmission brings us full circle.

The movie capitalizes on the audience’s inability to know for certain who’s OK and who’s dangerous. Here’s what we do know, thanks to The Signal: duct tape is a powerful tool, bug spray is lethal, and crazy people can sure take a beating.

2. Pontypool (2008)

Canadian director Bruce McDonald’s shock jock horror film is best appreciated as a metaphor on journalistic responsibility and the damage that words can do. Radio air personality and general pot-stirrer Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) finds himself kicked out of yet another large market and licking his wounds in the small time – Pontypool, Ontario, to be exact. But he’s about to find himself at the epicenter of a national emergency.

McDonald uses sound design and the cramped, claustrophobic space of the radio studio to wondrous effect as Mazzy and his producers broadcast through some kind of zombie epidemic, with Mazzy goosing on the mayhem in the name of good radio. As he listens to callers describe the action, and then be eaten up within it, the veteran McHattie compels attention while McDonald tweaks tensions.

Shut up or die is the tagline for the film. Fitting, as it turns out that what’s poisoning the throng, turning them into mindless, violent zombies, are the very words spewing at them. It’s a clever premise effectively executed, and while McDonald owes debts all around to previous efforts, his vision is unique enough to stand out and relevant enough to leave an impression.

1. Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome was the last true horror and truly Canadian film in David Conenberg’s arsenal, and it shows an evolution in his preoccupations with body horror, media, and technology as well as his progress as a filmmaker.

James Woods plays sleazy TV programmer Max Renn, who pirates a program he believes is being taped in Malaysia – a snuff show, where people are slowly tortured to death in front of viewers’ eyes. But it turns out to be more than he’d bargained for. Corporate greed, zealot conspiracy, medical manipulation all come together in this hallucinatory insanity that could only make sense with Cronenberg at the wheel.

Deborah Harry co-stars, and Woods shoulders his abundant screen time quite well. What? James Woods plays a sleaze ball? Get out! Still, he does a great job with it. But the real star is Cronenberg, who explores his own personal obsessions, dragging us willingly down the rabbit hole with him. Long live the new flesh!

Fright Club Bonus: Felissa Rose

Bonus content! Mangled dick experts! Iconic freeze frames! Yes, this extra Fright Club podcast has it all, thanks to the glorious Felissa Rose of Sleepaway Camp, who joined us to talk about horror fans, realizing her iconic status, and worries over whether her face will freeze like that.

Fright Club: Nice Guys in Horror

The best horror movies balance the darkness with light, the evil with goodness. Often enough they only do that so it can hurt you all the more when the nice guys finish dead last. Here are our favorite nice guys in horror. Be warned, a couple of these include spoilers that will break your heart.

5. Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), The Shining (1980)

Thank god for Dick Hallorann, the one person poor little Danny could trust to make sense of a senseless situation and do the right thing in a pinch. Scatman Crothers played such an amiable character, the kind of grown man who’s good to children. He was a good dude.

Kubrick was not as good to Scatman, though. The director famously put the then-70-year-old actor through 60 takes of his wordless death scene. He knew it was the one death that would break our hearts, though, so it had to be perfect.

4. Finn (Sam Richardson), Werewolves Within (2021)

The brand new video game adaptation opens with, of all things, a quote from Mr. Fred Rogers.

I am in.

Sam Richardson plays Finn, the new park ranger in an isolated mountain town divided along political lines. All he wants, especially as it becomes increasingly clear that there is a werewolf afoot, is for everyone just to try to be a good neighbor.

One of the reasons this film is as fun and satisfying as it is (no, not because the cute AT&T girl Lily [Milana Vayntrub] is in it) is because this film doesn’t punish Finn for being a good guy. It celebrates it. Finally!

3. Lee (Jon Krasinski), A Quiet Place (2019) SPOILER

Don’t watch the clip if you haven’t seen the movie. Or if you weep easily. Or if you weep less easily. What a gut punch this one is!

Sure, Lee’s fathering is marred by anger and frustration, but his tenderness – especially at the end – and his consistent desire to protect, encourage and support his family earns him a spot here.

2. Michael (Jake Weber), Dawn of the Dead (2004)

You just want to hug him. A cooler head, a humble voice, a supportive voice of reason, Mark is perhaps the most important person in that mall hunkered down away from the fast-moving zombie horde.

No matter what happens, Mark never loses his humanity. Hell, he never even loses his temper.

We bet he was a great dad.

1. Frank (Brendan Gleeson), 28 Days Later 

This movie – a genre masterpiece – finally gave us a break, a breather, a respite from the rage and fear and terror when it introduced us to Frank.

Brendan Gleeson, a masterpiece himself, is ever chuckling, good-natured, protective but kind dad. He wants to keep his daughter safe. He wants to ensure her safety. But he also wants to carve out some kind of normalcy, happiness, even.

He is huggable, dependable, and exactly what Jim and Selena need, too.

Fright Club: Involuntary Surgery in Horror Movies

Medical horror never lacks for really bad doctors: mad scientists, evil geniuses, or just people with more ambition than skill. What these particular folks can do with a scalpel, some thread, and a little imagination impresses. That is to say that it leaves an impression, often on unwilling patients. Here is our list of the best horror films about involuntary surgery.

6. The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)

After a handful of middling Dutch comedies, Tom Six stumbled upon inspiration – 100% medically accurate inspiration. Yes, we mean the Human Centipede. Just the First Sequence makes the list, though.

For a lot of viewers, the Human Centipede films are needlessly gory and over-the-top with no real merit. But for some, Six is onto something. His first effort uses a very traditional horror storyline – two pretty American girls have a vehicular breakdown and find peril – and takes that plot in an unusual direction. But where most horror filmmakers would finish their work as the victims wake up and find themselves sewn together, mouth to anus, this is actually where Six almost begins.

Although the film mines something primal about being helpless in the hands of surgeons and doctors, it’s Dieter Laser and his committed, insane performance that elevates the work. That and your own unholy desire to see what happens to the newly conjoined tourists.

5. Tusk (2014)

The basic idea for this film came from one of writer/director Kevin Smith’s actual podcasts. He found online a letter from a man seeking a lodger, and read it aloud and mocked the man. But somewhere in all that, Smith found the story of a man losing his humanity.

Tusk is a comic riff on The Human Centipede. It’s also an insightful kind of stress dream, so close to home for Smith that, even with all its utter ludicrousness, it feels almost confessional.

The film’s greatest strength is a hypnotic performance by Michael Parks as the old seafarer with nefarious motives. He’s magnificent, and co-star Justin Long’s work is strongest when the two share the screen.

There is no film quite like Tusk, certainly not in Smith’s arsenal, which, I suppose, means this is not a traditional Kevin Smith Movie. And yet, there’s more Smith in this film than in anything else he’s made.

4. American Mary (2012)

Jen and Sylvia Soska have written and directed a smart, twisted tale of cosmetic surgery – both elective and involuntary.

Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) stars as med student Mary Mason, a bright and eerily dedicated future surgeon who’s having some trouble paying the bills. She falls in with an unusual crowd, develops some skills, and becomes a person you don’t want to piss off.

The Soskas’ screenplay is as savvy as they come, clean and unpretentious but informed by gender politics and changing paradigms. They also prove skilled at drawing strong performances across the board. Isabelle is masterful, performing without judgment and creating a multi-dimensional central figure. Antonio Cupo also impresses as the unexpectedly layered yet certainly creepy strip club owner.

Were it not for all those amputations and mutilations, this wouldn’t be a horror film at all. It’s a bit like a noir turned inside out, where we share the point of view of the raven-haired dame who’s nothin’ but trouble. It’s a unique and refreshing approach that pays off.

3. Excision (2012)

Outcast Pauline (a very committed AnnaLynne McCord) is a budding surgeon. She’s not much of a student, actually, but she does have an affinity for anatomy. Especially blood. Pauline really, really likes blood.

Her sister – the favorite, for good reasons, truth be told – is slowly dying. And somewhere in Pauline’s odyssey to lose her virginity, inspire her mother’s love and do the right thing, she always seems to do the wrongest possible thing.

Writer/director Richard Bates, Jr. takes an unusual course with this coming-of-age horror. I’m not sure we’ve seen it handled quite like this before, although to be fair, it’s definitely in keeping with the peculiar and beautifully realized character he and McCord have created.

2. Eyes Without a Face (1960)

The formula behind this film has been stolen and reformulated for dozens of lurid, low-brow exploitation films since 1960. In each, there is a mad doctor who sees his experiments as being of a higher order than the lowly lives they ruin; the doctor is assisted by a loyal, often non-traditionally attractive (some might say handsome) nurse; there are nubile young women who will soon be victimized, as well as a cellar full of the already victimized. But somehow, in this originator of that particular line of horror, the plot works seamlessly.

An awful lot of that success lies in the remarkable performances. Pierre Brasseur, as the stoic surgeon torn by guilt and weighed down by insecurities about his particular genius, brings a believable, subtle egomania to the part seldom seen in a mad scientist role.

Still, the power in the film is in the striking visuals that are the trademark of giant French filmmaker Georges Franju. His particular genius in this film gave us the elegantly haunting image of Dr. Genessier’s daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). Her graceful, waiflike presence haunts the entire film and elevates those final scenes to something wickedly sublime.

1. The Skin I Live In (2011)

In 2011, the great Pedro Almodovar created something like a cross between Eyes Without a Face and Lucky McGee’s The Woman, with all the breathtaking visual imagery and homosexual overtones you can expect from an Almodovar project.

The film begs for the least amount of summarization because every slow reveal is placed so perfectly within the film, and to share it in advance is to rob you of the joy of watching. Antonio Banderas gives a lovely, restrained performance as Dr. Robert Ledgard, and Elena Anaya and Marisa Paredes are spectacular.

Not a frame is wasted, not a single visual is placed unconsciously. Dripping with symbolism, the film takes a pulpy and ridiculous storyline and twists it into something marvelous to behold. Don’t dismiss this as a medical horror film. Pay attention – not just to catch the clues as the story unfolds, but more importantly, to catch the bigger picture Almodovar is creating.