In today’s episode, we celebrate Hope’s novel ROOST, plus the brand spanking new audiobook, recorded by George himself. ROOST is the story of twins in a small Midwestern town during the satanic panic of the 1980s.
To properly put us in the mood, we will run through the best smalltown horror. There is a lot! Partly because small towns come equipped with small police forces. So, in addition to this fuzzy math list, we recommend: The Mist, Children of the Corn, Tremors, Dead and Buried, The Fog, The Birds, The Blob, We Are Still Here, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Wolf of Snow Hollow, and Brotherhood of Satan (which always makes Hope think of her hometown).
6. I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)
Billy O’Brien (Isolation) finds a new vision for the tired serial killer formula with his wry, understated indie horror I Am Not a Serial Killer.
An outsider in a small Minnesota town, John (Max Records) works in his mom’s morgue, writes all his school papers on serial killers, and generally creeps out the whole of his high school. But when townsfolk start turning up in gory pieces, John turns his keen insights on the case.
Records, who melted me as young Max in Spike Jonze’s 2009 masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are, serves up an extraordinarily confident, restrained performance. His onscreen chemistry with the nice old man across the street – Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd – generates thrills enough to offset the movie’s slow pace.
For his part, Lloyd is in turns tender, heartbreaking and terrifying.
Bursts of driest humor keep the film engaging as the story cleverly inverts the age-old “catch a killer” cliché and toys with your expectations as it does.
5. 30 Days of Night (2007)
If vampires can only come out at night, wouldn’t it make sense for them to head to the parts of the globe that remain under cover of darkness for weeks on end? Like the Arctic circle?
The first potential downfall here is that Josh Hartnett plays our lead, the small town sheriff whose ‘burg goes haywire just after the last flight for a month leaves town. A drifter blows into town. Dogs die viciously. Vehicles are disabled. Power is disrupted. You know what that means…the hunt’s begun.
Much of the film’s success is due to the always spectacular Danny Huston as the leader of the bloodsuckers. His whole gang takes a novel, unwholesome approach to the idea of vampires, and it works marvelously.
4. It (2017)
The Derry, Maine “losers club” finds itself in 1988 in this adaptation, an era that not only brings the possibility of Part 2 much closer to present day, but it gives the pre-teen adventures a nostalgic and familiar quality.
Bill Skarsgård has the unenviable task of following a letter-perfect Tim Curry in the role of Pennywise. Those are some big clown shoes to fill, but Skarsgård is up to the challenge. His Pennywise is more theatrical, more of an exploitation of all that’s inherently macabre and grotesque about clowns.
Director Andy Muschietti shows great instinct for taking advantage of foreground, background and sound. Yes, It relies heavily on jump scares, but Muschietti’s approach to plumbing your fear has more depth than that and he manages your rising terror expertly.
3. The Wailing (2016)
“Why are you troubled?” Jesus asked, “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see — for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
Though the true meaning of this quote won’t take hold until the final act, it presents many questions. Is this film supernatural? Demonic? Or, given the corporeal nature of the quote, is it rooted in the human flesh?
That’s what makes the quote so perfect. Writer/director Hong-jin Na meshes everything together in this small town horror where superstition and religion blend. The film echoes with misery, as the title suggests. The filmmaker throws every grisly thing at you – zombies, pustules, demonic possession, police procedural, multiple homicides – and yet keeps it all slippery with overt comedy.
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. Jaws (1975)
A big city cop moves to tiny Amity, where one man can make a difference. Unfortunately, that one man is Mayor Vaughn.
Steven Spielberg cemented his legacy with this blockbuster masterpiece. The interplay among the grizzled and possibly insane sea captain Quint (Robert Shaw), the wealthy young upstart marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and the decent lawman/endearing everyman Brody (Roy Scheider) helps the film transcend horror to become simply a great movie.
Spielberg achieved one of those rare cinematic feats: he bettered the source material. Though Peter Benchley’s nautical novel attracted droves of fans, Spielberg streamlined the text and surpassed its climax to craft a sleek terror tale.
It’s John Williams’s iconic score; it’s Bill Butler’s camera, capturing all the majesty and the terror, but never too much of the shark; it’s Spielberg’s cinematic eye. The film’s second pivotal threesome works, together with very fine performances, to mine for a primal terror of the unknown, of the natural order of predator and prey.