Fright Club: Travel Abroad Horror

There is something terrifying about being in a strange land, especially if the language is not your own. There are so many great horror flicks that take advantage of that sense of isolation and confusion that we needed a second list of stuff that didn’t make the final cut but that you should check out anyway: And Soon the Darkness (1970), Road Games (2015), Transsiberian (2008), Hostel (2005) and Hostel: Part II (2007), The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009) and, in particular, the double shot of Spanish horror Who Can Kill a Child? (1976) and its 2012 remake, Come Out and Play.

What’s better? Here you go:

5. Suspiria (1977)

Italian director Dario Argento is in the business of colorfully dispatching nubile young women. In Suspiria, his strongest film, American ballerina Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) moves to Germany to join a dance academy, but the other dancers are catty and the school is staffed with freaks. Plus, women keep disappearing and dying.

As Suzy undertakes an investigation of sorts, she discovers that the school is a front for a coven of witches. But Argento’s best film isn’t known for its plot, it’s become famous because of the visually disturbing and weirdly gorgeous imagery. Suspiria is a twisted fairy tale of sorts, saturating every image with detail and deep colors, oversized arches and doorways that dwarf the actors. Even the bizarre dubbing Argento favored in his earlier films works to feed the film’s effectively surreal quality.

4. Ils (Them) (2006)

Brisk, effective and terrifying, Them is among the most impressive horror flicks to rely on the savagery of adolescent boredom as its central conceit.

Writers/directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud offer a lean, unapologetic, tightly conceived thriller that never lets up.

Set in Romania, Them follows Lucas and Clementine, a young couple still moving into the big rattling old house where they’ll stay while they’re working abroad. It will be a shorter trip than they’d originally planned.

What the film offers in 77 minutes is relentless suspense. I’m not sure what else you want.

Creepy noises, hooded figures, sadistic children and the chaos that entails – Them sets up a fresh and mean cat and mouse game that pulls you in immediately and leaves you unsettled.

3. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Director John Landis blends horror, humor and a little romance with cutting edge (at the time) special effects to tell the tale of a handsome American tourist David (David Naughton) doomed to turn into a Pepper – I mean a werewolf – at the next full moon.

Two American college kids (Naughton and Griffin Dunne), riding in the back of a pickup full of sheep, backpacking across the moors, talk about girls and look for a place to duck out of the rain.

Aah, a pub – The Slaughtered Lamb – that’ll do!

The scene in the pub is awesome, as is the scene that follows, where the boys are stalked across the foggy moors. Creepy foreboding leading to real terror, this first act grabs you and the stage is set for a sly and scary escapade. The wolf looks cool, the sound design is fantastically horrifying, and Landis’s brightly subversive humor has never had a better showcase.

2. The Descent (2005)

A bunch of buddies head to the States for a spelunking adventure.

Writer/director Neil Marshall begins his film with an emotionally jolting shock, quickly followed by some awfully unsettling cave crawling and squeezing and generally hyperventilating, before turning dizzyingly panicky before snapping a bone right in two.

And then we find out there are monsters.

Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.

The grislier the film gets, the more primal the tone becomes, eventually taking on a tenor as much like a war movie as a horror film. This is not surprising from the director that unleashed Dog Soldiers – a gory, fun werewolf adventure. But Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier.
For full-on horror, this is one hell of a monster movie.

1. Midsommar (2019)

In Midsommar, we are as desperate to claw our way out of this soul-crushing grief as Dani (Florence Pugh). Mainly to avoid being alone, Dani insinuates herself into her anthropology student boyfriend Christian’s (Jack Reynor) trip to rural Sweden with his buds.

Little does she know they are all headed straight for a modern riff on The Wicker Man.

Like a Bergman inspired homage to bad breakups, this terror is deeply-rooted in the psyche, always taking less care to scare you than to keep you unsettled and on edge.

Fright Club: Bars in Horror

We needed a drink, so we threw back a few and brainstormed the best bars in horror movies. Some of them were dives we’d love to haunt. Others were just really, seriously scary. All of them set the stage for something important in horror.

Who wants a cocktail?

6. The Slaughtered Lamb (An American Werewolf in London, 1981)

What is going on with these guys?! How hard would it have been to just ignore the yanks and let them hang around? What harm could have come of it? But no! They ask one silly question and the next thing you know…

“Enoof!”


5. The Gold Room (The Shining, 1980)

“Little slow tonight, isn’t it Lloyd?”

Great line, even better delivery, in a scene—and a room—that haunts Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece interpretation of Stephen King’s best novel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJVVGzEbJC0

4. Mahers (Grabbers, 2012)

Sea monsters have come to Ireland. They crave the water but they hate alcohol. The only way to save yourself is to get blind drunk and stay inside the pub.

Most Irish movie ever.


3. The Winchester (Shaun of the Dead, 2004)

It’s familiar, you know where the exits are, and you can smoke. It’s The Winchester, best place to hole up and wait out the zombipocalypse.

How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

2. Titty Twister (From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996)

A couple of nogoodnik brothers go from frying pan to the pit of vampire hell as they and the family they kidnapped wait out the night at a strip club of death.

1. Green Room (2015)

You may not catch its name, but that’s OK by the clientele. This Boots & Braces establishment likes its music loud, its patrons white and its dogs bloodthirsty.

Fright Club: Best Werewolf Movies

In honor of George Wolf’s birthday on “the 21st night of September” (thanks Earth, Wind & Fire!), we celebrate Wolf men today. Not the fuzzy abomination of the Twilight wolf boys – let’s skip them. In fact, in prepping for this one we noticed an awful lot of really bad werewolf movies, and even more decent efforts undone by the real curse of lycanthropy – the prosthetics and make up. There’s also one we leave off this list that will piss a lot of people off. It was a close call, but we gave goth poetry the nod over Eighties social commentary.

5. The Company of Wolves (1984)

Neil Jordan’s poetic tale of sexual awakening is saturated with metaphors and symbols – most of them a bit naughty. A young girl dreams a Little Red Riding Hood type fable. She was just a girl, after all, who’d strayed from the path in the forest.

Jordan looks at a lot of the same themes you’ll find in any coming of age horror – the hysteria surrounding the move into womanhood. It’s just that he does it with such a sly delivery.

Theatrical and atmospheric, it’s not a classic horror tale, but it is creepy and it builds genuine dread. It also takes some provocative turns, and it boasts a quick but outstanding cameo by Terence Stamp as the Prince of Darkness.

4. The Wolf Man (1941)

Obviously this classic needs to be remembered in any examination of the genre. Lon Chaney, Jr.’s incredibly sympathetic turn as the big American schlub who keeps accidentally killing people anchors a film that has aged surprisingly well. Just compare it to its heinous 2010 reboot and you, too, will long for the grace of the original.

Sure, the score, the sets, the fog and high drama can feel especially precious. And what self-respecting wolf man goes by the name Larry? But there’s something lovely and tragic about poor, old Larry that helps the film remain compelling after more than sixty years.

3. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Sisters Ginger and Bridget, outcasts in the wasteland of Canadian suburbia, cling to each other, and reject/loathe high school (a feeling that high school in general returns).

On the evening of Ginger’s first period, she’s bitten by a werewolf. Writer Karen Walton cares not for subtlety: the curse, get it? It turns out, lycanthropy makes for a pretty vivid metaphor for puberty. This turn of events proves especially provocative and appropriate for a film that upends many mainstay female cliches. Walton’s wickedly humorous script stays in your face with the metaphors, successfully building an entire film on clever turns of phrase, puns, and analogies, stirring up the kind of hysteria that surrounds puberty, sex, reputations, body hair, and one’s own helplessness to these very elements. It’s as insightful a high school horror film as you’ll find, peppered equally with dark humor and gore – kind of A Canadian Werewolf in High School, if you will.

2. Dog Soldiers (2002)

Before Neil Marshall freaked us all out with the excellent genre flick The Descent, he breathed new life into the werewolf tale by abandoning a group of soldiers in the Scottish highlands as bait.

Wry humor, impenetrable accents, and a true sense of being out in the middle of nowhere help separate this from legions of other wolf men tales. Marshall uses an army’s last stand approach beautifully. This is like any genre pic where a battalion is trapped behind enemy lines – just as vivid, bloody and tense. But the enemies this time are giant, hairy, hungry monsters. So the idea (fantastically realized here) of traitors takes on a little extra something-something.

1. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

We’ve mentioned John Landis’s groundbreaking horror comedy in the past. It is the best of the bunch for a number of reasons: a darkly funny script, sharp writing that propels the action, Oscar-winning effects, a cool looking wolf. But is there one scene that encapsulates it all?

A pasty, purse-lipped Brit businessman leaves the train in an otherwise empty, harshly lit subway station. He pumps a small vending machine with change and comes out with mints. A tiny smirk of satisfaction crosses his face as he begins to unwrap the item, but the look turns to a grimace of unpleasant surprise. Echoing through the empty, rounded corridor comes a far off growl.

“Hello? Is there someone there?”

Again the growl.

Stern voice: “I can assure you that this is not the least bit amusing. I shall report this.”

There now, those hooligans have ruined his happy mint moment.

The camera follows him up an escalator, around a turn, into a rounded tunnel-like corridor uninterrupted for a long stretch by doors or windows. It’s a claustrophobic nightmare.

The camera takes the beast’s eye view, rounding a nearby corner, eyeing the Englishman. We see the terror as he backs away.

“Good lord.”

That awful howling sound.

And then David wakes up naked in the zoo.

Join the conversation on our Fright Club Podcast.





Fright Club: Best Eighties Horror

We’re back to the decade countdown, this week looking at the best horror had to offer in the Eighties. This is the decade that spawned more horror franchises and iconic villains than any other – Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead and Hellraiser to begin with. Somewhere in a haze of Aquanet that era also churned out more bad horror than any decade should, but here we will focus on the five best from the Duran Duran Decade.

5. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Director John Landis blends horror, humor, and a little romance with cutting edge (at the time) special effects to tell the tale of a handsome American tourist David (David Naughton) doomed to turn into a Pepper – I mean a werewolf – at the next full moon.

Two college kids (Naughton and Griffin Dunne), riding in the back of a pickup full of sheep, backpacking across the moors, talk about girls and look for a place to duck out of the rain.

Aah, a pub – The Slaughtered Lamb – that’ll do!

The scene in the pub is awesome, as is the scene that follows, where the boys are stalked across the foggy moors. Creepy foreboding leading to real terror, this first act grabs you and the stage is set for a sly and scary escapade. The wolf looks cool, the sound design is fantastically horrifying, and Landis’s brightly subversive humor has never had a better showcase.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uw6QPThCqE

4. Poltergeist (1982)

This aggressive take on the haunted house tale wraps director Tobe Hooper’s potent horrors inside producer Steven Spielberg’s brightly lit suburbia. In both of Spielberg’s ’82 films, the charade of suburban peace is disrupted by a supernatural presence. In E.T., though, there’s less face tearing.

Part of Poltergeist’s success emerged from pairing universal childhood fears – clowns, thunderstorms, that creepy tree – with the adult terror of helplessness in the face of your own child’s peril. JoBeth Williams’s performance of vulnerable optimism gives the film a heartbeat, and the unreasonably adorable Heather O’Rourke creeps us out while tugging our heartstrings.

Splashy effects, excellent casting, Spielberg’s heart and Hooper’s gut combine to create a flick that holds up. Solid performances and the pacing of a blockbuster provide the film a respectable thrill, but Hooper’s disturbing imagination guarantees some lingering jitters.

3. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Director John McNaughton’s unforgivingly realistic picture of American serial killer Henry Lee Lucas offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. We follow him through his humdrum days of stalking and then dispatching his prey, until he finds his own unwholesome kind of family in the form of buddy Otis and his sister Becky. What’s diabolically fascinating is the workaday, white trash camaraderie of the psychopath relationship in this film, and the grey areas where one crazy killer feels the other has crossed some line of decency.

McNaughton confuses viewers because the characters you identify with are evil, and even when you think you might be seeing this to understand the origins of the ugliness, he pulls the rug out from under you again by creating an untrustworthy narrative voice. His film is so nonjudgmental, so flatly unemotional, that it’s honestly hard to watch. It’s brilliant nonetheless.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IU3P6WXzvXU

2. The Thing (1981)

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World is both reverent and barrier-breaking, limiting the original’s Cold War paranoia, and concocting a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination and mutation.

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. In an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy. 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. It’s horror movie magic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7t-919Ec9U

1. The Shining (1980)

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 Torrence’s little yellow Beetle up the mountainside, the ominous score announcing a foreboding that the film never shakes.

Let’s not forget Jack. Nicholson outdoes himself. His veiled contempt early on blossoms into 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.

What image stays with you most? The two creepy little girls? The blood pouring out of the elevator? The impressive afro in the velvet painting above Scatman Crothers’s bed? That guy in the bear suit – what was going on there? Whatever the answer, thanks be to Kubrick’s deviant yet tidy imagination.

Check out the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.