Saturday Screamer: The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

You know the drill: 5 college kids head into the woods for a wild weekend of doobage, cocktails and hookups but find, instead, dismemberment, terror and pain. You can probably already picture the kids, too: a couple of hottie Alphas, the nice girl, the guy she may or may not be into, and the comic relief tag along. In fact, if you tried, you could almost predict who gets picked off when.

But that’s just the point, of course. Making his directorial debut, Drew Goddard, along with his co-scribe Joss Whedon, is going to use that preexisting knowledge to entertain holy hell out of you.

Though Goddard was an unproven entity behind the camera, the duo have written and produced some of the most intriguing projects in film and on TV in recent memory, including Cloverfield, Lost, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whedon wrote Toy Story. There is nothing that garners higher praise from me than that particular credit.

Their quirky, dark humor is on full display in this effort.

Aside from the setup, the best thing to know about this film is nothing at all. The less you know, the more you’ll enjoy the savage, wickedly funny lunacy.

I will tell you this, though: Best onscreen elevator ride ever!

Goddard and Whedon’s nimble screenplay offers a spot-on deconstruction of horror tropes as well as a joyous celebration of the genre. Aided by exquisite casting – particularly the gloriously deadpan Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – the filmmakers create something truly special.

Cabin is not a spoof. It’s not a satire. It’s sort of a celebratory homage, but not entirely. What you get with this film is a very different kind of horror comedy.

Fans of the genre will be elated. Those who generally avoid horror cannot help but be entertained. I left the theater absolutely giddy. As smart as Scream, as much fun as Evil Dead, this film is as thoroughly enjoyable a horror flick as anything you’ll find.

I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of January 14

It’s Halloween all over again! Two above-average spookfests and one longshot Oscar contender ensure that just about everything this week in home entertainment is a tasty treat.

Click the movie title for the full review.

Halloween

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EbOgr4aTvM

The Old Man and the Gun

The Bookshop

Fright Club: Best Horror Movies of 2018

Was 2018 the lamentable year in horror that some dumbasses suggest? No! There was a wild and impressive range in independent horror and blockbuster stuff, gore and comedy, psychological scares and slashers. It was a really fun year to look back on, as we do today to rank the best in horror the year had to offer. Join us, won’t you?

10. The Ritual

David Bruckner has entertained us with some of the best shorts in horror today, including work from V/H/S, Southbound, and one of our favorites, The Signal. Directing his feature debut in The Ritual, Bruckner takes what feels familiar, roots it in genuine human emotion, takes a wild left turn and delivers the scares.

Five friends decide to mourn a tragedy with a trip together into the woods. Grief is a tricky, personal, often ugly process and as they work through their feelings, their frustration quickly turns to fear as they lose themselves in a foreign forest where danger lurks.

The film works for a number of reasons, but its greatest triumph is in making the woods scary again. That environment has become such a profound cliché in horror that it is almost impossible to make it feel fresh, but there is an authenticity to the performances, the interaction among the characters, and the frustration and fear that grounds the horror. And then there is horror—intriguing, startling, genuinely frightening horror. Yay!

9. Unsane

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy—brittle, unlikeable and amazing) is living your worst nightmare. After moving 400 miles to escape her stalker, she begins seeing him everywhere. She visits an insurance-approved therapist in a nearby clinic and quickly finds herself being held involuntarily for 24 hours.

After punching an orderly she mistakes for her stalker, that 24 hours turns into one week. And now she’s convinced that the new orderly George is, in fact, her stalker David (Joshua Leonard—cloying, terrifying perfection).

After laying bare some terrifying facts about our privatized mental health industry, Steven Soderbergh structures this critique with a somewhat traditional is-she-or-isn’t-she-crazy storyline. Anyone who watches much horror will recognize that uneasy line: you may be here against your will, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be here.

And the seasoned director of misdirection knows how to toy with that notion, how to employ Sawyer’s very real damage, touch on her raw nerve of struggling to remain in control of her own life only to have another’s will forced upon her.

He relies on familiar tropes to say something relevant and in doing so creates a tidy, satisfying thriller.

8. Mom and Dad

I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it.

It’s a joke, of course, an idle threat. Right?

Maybe so, but deep down, it does speak to the unspeakable tumult of emotions and desires that come with parenting. Wisely, a humorous tumult is exactly the approach writer/director Brian Taylor brings to his horror comedy Mom and Dad.

Why do you want to see it? Because of the unhinged Nicolas Cage. Not just any Nic Cage—the kind who can convincingly sing the Hokey Pokey while demolishing furniture with a sledge hammer.

7. Overlord

Perhaps you don’t know this, but Nazi zombies have a horror genre unto themselves: Shock Waves, Zombie Lake, Dead Snow, Dead Snow 2, Blood Creek. Well, there’s a new Nazi Zombie Sheriff in town, and he is effing glorious.

Overlord drops us into enemy territory on D-Day. One rag tag group of American soldiers needs to disable the radio tower the Nazis have set up on top of a rural French church, disabling Nazi communications and allowing our guys to land safely.

What’s on the church tower is not so much the problem. It’s what’s in the basement.

A satisfying Good V Evil film that benefits from layers, Overlord reminds us repeatedly that it is possible to retain your humanity, even in the face of inhuman evil.

Plus, Nazi zombies, which is never not awesome!

6. Revenge

The rape-revenge film is a tough one to pull off. Even in the cases where the victim rips bloody vengeance through the bodies of her betrayers, the films are too often titillating. Almost exclusively written and directed by men for a primarily male audience, the comeuppance angle can be so bent by the male gaze that the film feels more like an additional violation.

Well, friends, writer/director Coralie Fargeat changes all that with Revenge, a breathless, visually fascinating, bloody-as-hell vengeance flick that repays the viewer for her endurance. (His, too.)

Fargeat’s grasp of male entitlement and the elements of a rape culture are as sharp as her instincts for visual storytelling. Wildly off-kilter close-ups sandwich gorgeous vistas to create a dreamlike frame for the utterly brutal mess of a film unfolding.

Symbol-heavy but never pretentious or preachy, the film follows a traditional path—she is betrayed, she is underestimated, she repays her assailants for their toxic masculinity. But between Fargeat’s wild aesthetic, four very solid performances, and thoughtful yet visceral storytelling, the film feels break-neck, terrifying and entirely satisfying.

5. Halloween

David Gordon Green’s direct sequel is, above all things, a mash note to the original. Visual odes continually call back to Carpenter, often in ways that allude to an intriguing about-face the film is leading to.

Kills—more numerous and grisly than the first go round—are often handled offscreen, just the wet thud or slice of the deed to enlighten us until the corpse gets a quick showcase. The result is a jumpy, fun, “don’t go in there!” experience reminiscent of the best of the genre.

The film takes it up a notch in its final reel, as tables turn, panic rooms open and cop heads become Jack-o-lanterns. The result is a respectful, fun and creepy experience meant to be shared with a crowd.

4. A Quiet Place

Damn. John Krasinski. That big, tall guy, kind of doughy-faced? Married to Emily Blunt? Dude can direct the shit out of a horror movie.

Krasinski plays the patriarch of a close-knit family trying to survive the post-alien-invasion apocalypse by staying really, really quiet. The beasts use sound to hunt, but the family is prepared. The cast, anchored by Krasinski’s on-and-off-screen wife Emily Blunt is amazing. That you may expect.

What you may not expect is Krasinski’s masterful direction: where and when the camera lingers or cuts away, how often and how much he shows the monsters, when he decides the silence will generate the most dread and when he chooses to let Marco Beltrami’s ominous score do that work for him.

It’s smart in the way it’s written, sly in its direction and spot-on in its ability to pile on the mayhem in the final reel without feeling gimmicky or silly.

3. Mandy

Writer/director Panos Cosmatos’s hallucinogenic fever dream of social, political and pop-culture subtexts layered with good old, blood-soaked revenge, Mandy throws enough visionary strangeness on the screen to dwarf even Nicolas Cage in full freakout mode.

Like Cosmatos’s 2010 debut Beyond the Black Rainbow, Mandy is both formally daring and wildly borrowed. While Black Rainbow, also set in 1983, shines with the antiseptic aesthetic of Cronenberg or Kubrick, Mandy feels more like something snatched from a Dio album cover.

Cosmatos blends ingredients from decades-spanning indie horror into a stew that tastes like nothing else.

Surrender to it.

2. Suspiria

Luca Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth. Macabre visions dart in and out like a video that will kill you in 7 days while sudden, extreme zooms, precise sound design and a vivid score from Thom Yorke help cement the homage to another era.

But even when this new Suspiria—a “cover version” of Dario Argento’s 1974 gaillo classic—is tipping its hat, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. The color scheme is intentionally muted, and you’ll find no men in this dance troupe, serving immediate notice that superficialities are not the endgame here.

1. Hereditary

Grief and guilt color every somber, shadowy frame of writer/director Ari Aster’s unbelievably assured feature film debut, Hereditary.

With just a handful of mannerisms, one melodic clucking noise, and a few seemingly throwaway lines, Aster and his magnificent cast quickly establish what will become nuanced, layered human characters, all of them scarred and battered by family.

Art and life imitate each other to macabre degrees while family members strain to behave in the manner that feels human, seems connected, or might be normal. What is said and what stays hidden, what’s festering in the attic and in the unspoken tensions within the family, it’s all part of a horrific atmosphere meticulously crafted to unnerve you.

Aster takes advantage of a remarkably committed cast to explore family dysfunction of the most insidious type. Whether his supernatural twisting and turning amount to metaphor or fact hardly matters with performances this unnerving and visual storytelling this hypnotic.

Screening Room: Old Tricks, New Treats

The Screening Room breaks down the new Halloween, talks through The Oath and the new YA The Hate U Give. Plus, we’ll run through what’s worth watching in new home entertainment releases.

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

The Shape of Horror

Halloween

by Hope Madden

Any sequel to an iconic horror—particularly one that introduced a nightmarish, game changing villain—is bound to disappoint in some fashion because our imagination has attached its own terror to the story and the boogeyman that no one else can match.

Though they certainly tried their best with the Michael Myers franchise, to the tune of seven sequels and two reboots preceding this 40th anniversary comeback, Halloween.

Wisely, director/co-writer David Gordon Green and his writing partners Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley ignore all those other films, creating a universe where only John Carpenter’s 1978 original exists.

Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the star-making role of Laurie Strode, Carpenter’s final girl who has spent the last 40 years struggling to recover from the trauma of that Halloween night by stockpiling guns, booby-trapping her home and alienating her family.

She’s not the only character with a one-track mind. Myers’s attending doc, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) thinks of, studies and devotes himself to nothing else but his star patient.

“You’re the new Loomis,” Laurie Strode quips upon meeting him—exactly what we were thinking. And though Bilginer’s performance borders on camp (and not in that respectable way Donald Pleasance had of overacting), his musings articulate the film’s basic principles. After 40 years of obsessing over having failed to achieve their goals—neither killed the other—Laurie Strode and Michael Myers are as connected as they might be if they were still siblings.

See, that came up in 1981’s Halloween II, so no longer canon.

Green’s direct sequel is, above all things, a mash note to the original. Visual odes continually call back to Carpenter, often in ways that allude to an intriguing about face the film is leading to.

Aside from Bilginer and Andi Matichak—unmemorable as Strode’s high school-aged granddaughter, Allyson—the cast is far stronger than what any of the other sequels could boast.

The humor peppered throughout the film, mainly as dialog between characters about to be butchered, too often undermines the tension being built. But Green, whose style refuses to be pinned down, embraces the slasher genre without submitting to it.

Kills—more numerous and grisly than the first go round—are often handled offscreen, just the wet thud or slice of the deed to enlighten us until the corpse gets a quick showcase. The result is a jumpy, fun, “don’t go in there!” experience reminiscent of the best of the genre.

The film takes it up a notch in its final reel, as tables turn, panic rooms open and cop heads become Jack-o-lanterns. The result is a respectful, fun and creepy experience meant to be shared with a crowd.

Fright Club: Best Horror Movie Openings

The horror prologue—almost a matter of necessity at this point, a short film in itself to introduce the terror, make you jump, serve as a reference point for a third act call-back.

As cliche as they may be, the opening jump scene is still handled more effectively and more memorably in horror than in any other genre. (I’m looking at you, James Bond.) They can become iconic cinematic moments and pop cultural touchstones like Scream or The Ring. They can, without the aid of the rest of the film, haunt your dreams: It, Martyrs. They can amuse you while setting up the rules for the film: Zombieland. Or they can be just astoundingly beautiful, like Rear Window.

We want to thank Brandon Thomas for joining us this week to count down the six best (fuzzy math!) opening scenes in horror.

6. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film.

And finally! A strong female lead who seems like a real person. Poor, overworked Ana (Sarah Polley) just wants to get off her nursing shift—a subtly brilliant way to introduce the facts of the infection without beating you about the face and neck with it.

Then on to a quiet ride home with “Have a Nice Day” on the radio—one of many brilliant musical choices by director Zack Snyder—and our first aerial of the tidy suburban landscape that is about to be destroyed.

Cut to ordinary, comfortable wedded bliss, then Vivian in her bloody little nightgown, then a rabid husband, a bloody escape and the second pan around the neighborhood gone insane.

5. The Reflecting Skin (1990)

It isn’t often when documenting horror cinema that you have the need to mention an art director, but for The Reflecting Skin, the work of Rick Roberts deserves a note. His gorgeous, bucolic Idaho is perfectly crafted, with golden wheat and decrepit wooden outbuildings representing both the wholesomeness and decay that will meld in this tale.

Writer/director Philip Ridley has a fascinating imagination, and his film captures your attention from its opening moments. A cherubic tot walks gleefully through wheat fields toward his two adorable little buddies, carrying a frog nearly as big as he is. “Look at this wonderful frog!” he calls out to them.

What happens next is grotesque and amazing – the casual but exuberant cruelty of children. It’s the perfect introduction to this world of macabre happenings as seen through the eyes of a little boy.

4. It Follows (2014)

David Robert Mitchell wears his fondness for the genre on his sleeve. His startlingly realized prologue not only sets you on edge for one of the strongest new genre films in a decade, but it announces that Mitchell, like many of us, is a very big John Carpenter fan.

As Mike Gioulakis’s camera circles this comfortable suburban street, following poor Annie (Bailey Spry) in circles as she decides her next panicky move, Mitchell’s inspirations are clear. It’s both clever and ballsy: drawing comparisons to the genre master in your opening scene can very well set you up for tremendous failure.

But not if you’re about to follow this pristine piece of horror set-up with one of the most imaginative, well-crafted and terrifying films in recent memory. Well done.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs0PrI3ylso

3. Halloween (1978)

Speaking of John Carpenter, here’s a guy who knows how to open a movie. The Thing, for instance, brilliantly and almost wordlessly sets up the entire film with an economy and visual style that tells you all you need to know about the harsh environment, isolation and, if you’re really paying attention, the danger that’s afoot.

But it’s the prologue to Halloween that has been the most inspirational of any of his film openings. Backed by his spare and perfect score, the spooky chanting of children sets the mood: black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts/covens of witches with all of their hosts/ you may think it’s scary/ you’re probably right/ black cats and goblins on Halloween night!

Switch to the now-famous killer’s pov through the eye-holes of a Halloween mask—an iconic image clearly inspired by Bava’s devil mask pov shot in Black Sabbath—and then the blank face and bloody knife of the jester-suited Michael Meyers and your masterpiece has taken its first steps.

2. Get Out (2017)

Opening with a brilliant prologue that wraps a nice vibe of homage around the cold realities of “walking while black,” writer/director Jordan Peele uses tension, humor and a few solid frights to call out blatant prejudice, casual racism and cultural appropriation.

Lakeith Stanfield is just trying to find the party, but he’s lost on McMansion avenue in a suburb. When a sports car slows down next to him and then stops, Peele has introduced utterly perfectly his method of subverting genre expectations to make terrifying salient points about America.

Backed by Flanagan and Allen’s utterly terrifying golden oldie Run Rabbit Run, we watch the age-old genre scene unfold: a vulnerable innocent alone in the dark with no one coming to the rescue. But suddenly it’s not the beautiful co-ed, not the helpless victim we’re trained to worry for, accustomed to seeing as prey. It’s actually the image we’ve been trained to see as the aggressor, the villain, the reason to fear.

And yet, what happens here feels far, far too much like reality.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GheJAxYvbfs&t=5s

1. Jaws (1975)

Poor, drunk Chrissie and her stupid, wasted suiter.

Steven Spielberg, 29-years-old at the time, was about to cause a tidal wave of pop culture defining terror. But first, a late-night beach party, a couple of wholesome if drunken revelers, a late swim and our first taste of John Williams masterpiece of a score.

No, Chrissie does not look like she’s having a good time, and actress Susan Backlini seems to have gone through enough of an ordeal to come away with PTSD. Bill Butler’s camera switches from the disturbing shark’s-eye-view to the even more disturbing close up just above the water line—that line Chrissy keeps crossing, up and down, up and down, and then back and forth and back and forth.

The result was a lingering terror of the water that not only kept you hoping against hope that every member of Amity stayed off that beach, but very likely caused you at least a little anxiety the next time you want for a late night dip.
d: Steven Spielberg; w: Peter Benchley

Halloween Countdown, Day 17: They Look Like People

They Look Like People (2015)

A lot of horror films introduce characters with a kind of cinematic shorthand: disheveled, bearded, worn white tee shirt = sketchy but sympathetic. Skinny jeans, self-empowerment in the headphones, checks his flex in the gym mirror = douchebag.

Generally it happens so the film can devote less time to character development and jump right into the carnage, but They Look Like People writer/director Perry Blackshear has other aims in mind.

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.

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.

They Look Like People can only barely be considered a horror film. It lacks the mean-spiritedness generally associated with the genre and replaces it with something both beautiful and terrifying. Whatever the genre, though, Blackshear’s film is a resounding success.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

Fright Club: Best Final Girls

A staple of the horror genre – the final girl. She’s been beaten, tied up, duct taped, stabbed and generally misused, but she soldiers on. Whether through virtue, savvy, or just general badassedness, these women are not above doing what’s necessary to make it through to the sequel – even if that means putting on Jason’s dead mother’s moth-eaten sweater, because that shit had to be gamey. So today our Senior Aussie/Slasher Correspondent Cory Metcalfe joins us again to celebrate the best final girls in horror.

6. Erin (Sharni Vinson – You’re Next, 2011)

Erin is Australian, which is clearly the deciding factor here. She joins her boyfriend for a family holiday in a gorgeous vacation home deep in the woods. Which sounds worse, the first meeting with the family or “deep in the woods”? In her case, that is seriously a toss-up. The gathering is disrupted by violent, mask-wearing psychopaths, but they weren’t prepared for Erin.

Erin’s one of the few at the event who’s new to the family, so she’s hard for the villains to predict. And we find that her boyfriend – a college prof who dates his students, including Erin – doesn’t know nearly enough about her. It’s a great tale of unreasonably low expectations. It’s also, a great character because Erin is savvy, tough, and fearless.

5. Mia (Jane Levy – Evil Dead, 2013)

With the helpful pen of Oscar winner Diablo Cody (uncredited), Fede Alvarez turns all the particulars of the Evil Dead franchise on end. You can tick off so many familiar characters, moments and bits of dialog, but you can’t predict what will happen.

One of the best revisions is the character of Mia: the first to go and yet the sole survivor. She’s the damaged one, and the female who’s there without a male counterpart, which means (by horror standards), she’s the one most likely to be a number in the body count, but because of what she has endured in her life she’s able to make seriously tough decisions to survive – like tearing off her own damn arm. Nice!

Plus, it rains blood! How awesome is that?!

4. Sarah (Shauna McDonald – The Descent, 2005)

Sarah is another one who appears to be the weak link but proves her meddle. She suffers an almost unendurable tragedy in the opening scene, and a year later, when she and her friends regroup to spend a holiday together spelunking in West Virginia, she appears to be the delicate one. What she goes through in the early part of the film informs her ability to survive – as her friend Beth points out (to her and to us) when Sarah gets caught in the narrow tunnel.

She’s quiet and observant, smart and proactive – all excellent qualities once we find out that the group is not only lost inside an unmapped underground cave with no hope of being found, but that the cave already has residents, and dude! Are they creepy!

The way Sarah evolves, and the turns the character and the film take, are surprising and impressive.

3. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974)

Back in 1974, the “final girl” formula hadn’t been perfected. The slasher genre barely even existed, but Tobe Hooper already knew how to play with genre expectations. Yes, Sally Hardesty is the sweet one, the pretty one, the one likeliest to be the last in line for that chainsaw, but there’s a lot more to her than halter tops and bell bottoms.

Marilyn Burns mines for something primal in this performance, which is absolutely necessary if we’re to believe this girl has what it takes to survive the cannibal family. Sally’s mania is recognizable, necessary to the viewer. No one is yelling advice or judgement at the screen because who in the hell could possibly know what to do in this situation?

Unlike so many female characters in horror before her and since, Sally doesn’t whimper and rely on the villain’s conscience to save her. She negotiates, and when she realizes that’s getting her nowhere, she makes tough choices (like throwing herself out a window – because no fate could be worse than the one that clearly awaits her otherwise). In keeping with the film, Burns’s performance is gritty, unpleasant, insane and perfect.

2. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween, 1978)

In 1978, Laurie Strode became the definition of “final girl” in much the same way that Carpenter’s horror masterpiece became the definition of slasher – the blueprint for the genre. For many, Jamie Lee Curtis’s girl-next-door is the ultimate final girl.

There’s great reason for that. She distilled everything that came before and became the model for what would come after in the slasher film: virtuous, smart, self-sacrificing. But Curtis does it with more intelligence and onscreen grace than those before or (mostly) after in the slasher genre. She’s virtuous, but not judgy. She’s hot, but not overtly so. She’s also brave and smart.

The reason the character transcended genre trappings to become iconic is not the writing or the film itself, but Curtis’s performance. An effortless intelligence shines through regardless of Laurie’s actions, and it elevates the film and the genre.

1. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver – Alien, 1979)

Who could possibly push Laurie Strode to second place? Ellen Ripley could.

Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien and its many sequels is a savvy, tough, no-nonsense survivor. She is clearly the smartest member of the Nostromo crew: she understands chain of command and values quarantine regulations; she’s the first to recognize Ash (Ian Holm) as a villain; she understands the need to blow the ship; she outsmarts the predator.

Her sexuality is beside the point, which is entirely refreshing in this genre and for the role of final girl. She also changed the game for “final girls.” No longer could we accept a beautiful, sobbing mess who made ridiculous decisions, refused to fight back, and survived based entirely on her virtue. Ripley is never a victim, rarely makes an uninformed decision, and kicks all manner of ass. That’s why she survives. She’s not hoping to be saved, she’s just doing what it takes to get the F out of Dodge and keep Earth safe.

Thanks, Ellen!

Fright Club: Best Slashers

Listen to the full FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.

Senior Aussie Correspondent Cory Metcalfe makes a return trip, because he is a slasher junky and we needed the assist. Together we walk through the five best slashers in cinematic history, but first we had a couple of arguments to settle.

There are millions of potential films in this category, so we defined the term slasher for our purposes. Well, Hope defined it and George grumbled about it. Definition: A group is stalked in a neighborhood/woods (not a single, isolated location) by a seemingly indestructible killer with a blade of some kind. So, no Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Maniac.

On to our second argument – one of Cory’s all-time favorites (and likely a film you expect to see here) did not make the list. Again, blame Hope, though Cory was a great sport about it.

With that out of the way, it’s time: Fright Club counts down the five best slashers!

5. Bay of Blood (1971)

Here is where you might have seen Friday the 13th, but won’t. In fact, nearly every campground slasher – The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, the wonderful new Belgian horror Cub – all owe a debt, not really to Friday the 13th, but to Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve).

If you’re familiar with Bava (and you should be), it’s probably because of his more romantic, visually lovely films like Black Sunday, but in ’71 he made his bloodiest film and created nearly every gimmick we’d soon see across the slasher subgenre.

The story is basically nonsensical. There’s a murder early on that sets up a fight for an inheritance; meanwhile four nubile youths stumble into the same inheritable bayside cottage, where they have sex, skinny dip, die, etc. You will notice entire scenes lifted directly for use in Friday the 13th, but the film is also fun because, as it predates the genre, it often feels like it’s somehow veered off the path (because there was no path yet). So Bay of Blood gets the nod because it did it first.

4. Black Christmas (1974)

The other foundational work in the genre, like Bay of Blood, Black Christmas created the architecture for the slasher. Fun trivia: director Bob Clark made two Christmas-themed films in his erratic career, including the iconic A Christmas Story (You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!). Black Christmas is remembered less well.

Sure, it’s another case of mysterious phone calls leading to grisly murders; sure it’s another one-by-one pick off of sorority stereotypes; sure, there’s a damaged child backstory; naturally John Saxon co-stars. Wait, what was different? Oh, yeah, two things. Maybe three. The story veers off on a red herring chase that’s utterly ludicrous. Also, the actors – Margot Kidder, in particular – show more commitment than you’d normally see in this kind of film. Most importantly, the phone calls are actually pretty scary. There’s something unseemly about them, unsettling.

Why the girls remain in the sorority house (if only they’d had an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!), or why campus police are so baffled remains a mystery, but Clark was onto something with the phone calls, as evidenced by the number of films that ripped off this original convention.

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Teens on suburban Elm St. share nightmares, and one by one, these teens are not waking up. Not that their disbelieving parents care.

Depositing a boogieman in your dreams, creating nightmares that will truly kill you, was a genius concept by writer/director Wes Craven because you can only stay awake for so long. It took everyone’s fear of nightmares to a more concrete level.

Plus, Craven had plenty of iconic kills and images up his sleeve. That face that stretches through the wall is cool, the weirdly long arms out behind Tina are still super scary. The nightmare images are apt, and the hopscotch chant and the vision of Freddie himself were not only refreshingly original but wildly creepy. All of that plus an iconic villain, brought to glorious life by Robert Englund’s darkly comical performance, and you have a real keeper.

2. Scream (1996)

A dozen years after recreating the genre with Nightmare, Wes Craven did it again. When Scream hit screens in 1996, we were still three years from the onslaught of the shakey cam, six years from the deluge of Asian remakes, and nearly ten years from the first foul waft of horror porn. In its time, Scream resurrected a basically dying genre, using clever meta-analysis and black humor.

What you have is a traditional high school slasher – someone dons a likeness of Edvard Munch’s most famous painting and plants a butcher knife in a local teen, leading to red herrings, mystery, bloodletting and whatnot. But Craven’s on the inside looking out and he wants you to know it.

What makes Scream stand apart is the way it critiques horror clichés as it employs them, subverting expectation just when we most rely on it. As the film opens, Casey (Drew Barrymore) could have survived entirely (we presume) had she only remembered that it was not, in fact, Jason Voorhees who killed all those campers in Friday the 13th; it was his mother. A twisted reverence for the intricacies of slashers is introduced in the film’s opening sequence, then glibly revisited in one form or another in nearly every scene after. It could be the wryly clever writing or the solid performances, but I think it’s the joyous fondness for a genre and its fans that keeps this one fresh.

1. 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.

Fright Club: Best Horror of the Seventies

The Seventies is when horror really took off. Blockbuster masterpieces like Alien and Jaws affected countless viewers and at least as many future filmmakers. Maverick young directors like Brian De Palma, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg and Dario Argento developed into the cinematic voices of a generation. Major studio efforts with A-list casts like The Omen kept the genre on the front burner for all movie goers, and Blaxploitation reached into the genre with the Blacula series.

We had to leave a lot off this list. In what may be the most crowded field of any decade, here we boil down the five best horror films (strictly horror – sorry Jaws & Alien!) of the 1970s.

5. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
In 1922, F.W. Murnau directed maybe the best vampire film we’ll ever see: Nosferatu. In 1979, Werner Herzog lovingly remade it. Both films are obviously based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, but where Stoker saw romance, these German filmmakers saw pestilence.

The effortlessly weird Klaus Kinski may play Dracula, but his look is 100% Orlock from Murnau’s film. Pasty and bald with hollowed eyes, pointy ears and rat teeth, this vampire relates far more to the vermin spreading the Black Plague across Europe than to the sultry beast luring women and men to an erotic end.

Herzog’s images are dreamy and wonderful, and the twists he gives the fairly tired storyline are genius. Isabel Adjani’s Lucy gets to be the hero, and the alteration to her beloved Jonathan Harker’s character is the work of dark genius.

4. Halloween (1978)

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

Sure, you’ve seen it, but from the creepy opening piano notes to the disappearing body ending, this low budget surprise changed everything. Carpenter impeccably develops anxiety, breaking tradition by planting 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 terrifying. 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 terror. Nice.

3. Carrie (1976)

The seminal film about teen angst and high school carnage has to be Brian De Palma’s 1976 landmark adaptation of King’s first full length novel, the tale of an unpopular teenager who marks the arrival of her period by suddenly embracing her psychic powers.

Sissy Spacek is the perfect balance of freckle-faced vulnerability and awed vengeance, but she may be overshadowed by Piper Laurie’s glorious evil zeal as her religious nutjob mother. (Both were Oscar nominated.) We feel proud and cautiously optimistic when Carrie finally stands up to her mother, but Senior Prom, or “Love Among the Stars,” doesn’t go as well as it might have for poor Carrie White or her classmates. One ugly trick involving a bucket of cow’s blood, and Carrie’s psycho switch is flipped. Spacek’s blood drenched Gloria Swanson on the stage conducting the carnage is perfectly over-the-top. And after all the mean kids get their comeuppance, Carrie returns home to the real horror show.

De Palma and screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen wisely streamline King’s meandering finale. From the prom sequence onward, De Palma commits to the genre, giving us teen carnage followed by the profoundly upsetting family horror, finished with one of cinema’s best “gotcha” moments.

The prom scene inspired a Halloween costume for us a couple years ago – we won best costume and a free round!

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2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Not everyone considers The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a classic. Those people are wrong. Perhaps even stupid. It is classic because Hooper masterfully enlisted a low rent verite for this bizarre story to do something utterly new. The camera work, so home-movie like, worked with the “based on a true story” tag line like nothing before it, and the result seriously disturbed the folks of 1974. It has been ripped off and copied dozens of times since its release, but in the context of its time, it was so absolutely original it was terrifying.

Hooper sidestepped all the horror gimmicks audiences had grown accustomed to – a spooky score that let you know when to grow tense, shadowy interiors that predicted oncoming scares – and instead shot guerilla-style in broad daylight, outdoors, with no score at all. You just couldn’t predict what was coming.

Poor, doomed, unlikeable Franklin Hardesty, his pretty sister Sally, and a few other friends head out to Grampa Hardesty’s final resting place after hearing the news of some Texas cemeteries being grave robbed. They just want to make sure Grampy’s still resting in peace – an adventure which eventually leads to most of them making a second trip to a cemetery. Well, what’s left of them.

We got to meet Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface) and Marilyn Burns (Sally) a couple years ago. We were pretty geeked!

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1. The Exorcist (1973)

Slow moving, richly textured, gorgeously and thoughtfully framed, The Exorcist follows a very black and white, good versus evil conflict: Father Merrin V Satan for the soul of an innocent child. But thanks to an intricate and nuanced screenplay adapted by William Peter Blatty from his own novel, the film boasts any number of flawed characters struggling to find faith and to do what’s right in this situation. And thanks to Friedkin’s immaculate filming, we are entranced by early wide shots of a golden Middle East, then brought in a little closer to watch people running here and there on the campus at Georgetown or on the streets of NYC.

Then we pull in a bit closer: interiors of Chris MacNeil’s (Ellen Burstyn) place on location, the hospital where Fr. Karras’s mother is surrounded by loons, the labs and conference rooms where an impotent medical community fails to cure poor Regan (Linda Blair).

Then closer, in the bedroom, where you can see Regan’s breath in the chilly air, examine the flesh rotting off her young face. Here, in the intimacy, there’s no escaping that voice, toying with everyone with such vulgarity.
The voice belongs to Mercedes McCambridge, and she may have been the casting director’s greatest triumph. Of course, Jason Miller as poor, wounded Fr. Damien Karras could not have been better. Indeed, he, Burstyn and young Linda Blair were all nominated for Oscars.

So was Friedkin, the director who balanced every scene to expose its divinity and warts, and to quietly build tension. When he was good and ready, he let that tension burst into explosions of terrifying mayhem that became a blueprint for dozens of films throughout the Seventies and marked a lasting icon for the genre.

So that’s it! We hope you agree, but let us know if you don’t, and be sure to listen to the entire podcast on Fright Club!