Fright Club: Incest in Horror

Well there’s an uncomfortable topic! Of course, that’s what makes it so perfect for horror. Any idea that automatically induces a wince or a grimace, anything you want instinctively to turn away from, immediately creates the kind of discomfort that only horror can truly manipulate.

It’s been used for lurid ends in films like Flowers in the Attic, and has become the source of comedy in others – Tromeo and Juliet springs to mind. But often, it creates a particular kind of tension that drives a film in truly horrific directions: Jug Face, Crimson Peak, Pin, Angel Heart, The Crazies.

Here are the films we think handle the topic best. SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

6. 100 Bloody Acres (2012)

A testament to the entrepreneurial spirit and the bonds of family, 100 Bloody Acres is Australia’s answer to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Same body count and more blood, but a far sweeter disposition and loads more laughs.

Brothers Reg (Damon Herriman) and Lindsay (Angus Sampson) sell organic fertilizer. Business is good. Too good. Demand is driving the brothers to more and more extreme measures to gather ingredients.

Interesting the way writing/directing brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes explore sibling rivalry, but the film’s strength is in its humor: silly enough to make even the most repugnant bits enjoyable. (I’m looking at you, Aunt Nancy. Oh, no! Why did I look?!)

5. The Woman (2011)

There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleese (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a feral woman (an awesome Pollyanna McIntosh), chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.

The film rethinks family – well, patriarchy, anyway. You know from the opening, sunshiny segment that nothing is as lovely as it seems, but what lurks underneath this wholesome facade begins with some obvious ugliness—abuse, incest—but where it leads is diabolical.

Nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the innocent seeming baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate. It’s a dark and disturbing adventure that finds something unsavory in our primal nature and even worse in our quest to civilize. Don’t even ask about what it finds in the dog pen.

4. Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

Writer/director Rolf de Heer’s astonishing film is horribly marred by the fact that a cat is, in fact, killed on camera, so buyer beware. For most people, that will be reason enough to miss this one. But that just makes the director’s choice that much more tragic, because this is a really good movie.

Nicholas Hope is astonishing as the titular Bubby, a 30-year-old manchild who’s never, ever left the room he keeps with his mum.

Remember the Oscar-winning indie film Room? Remember how tragedy is somehow skirted because of the courageous love of a mother for her son? Well, this was not Bubby’s mum. Bad things are happening in that room, and once Bubby is finally free to explore the world, his adventure is equal parts deranged and soul-crushing. Hope is so frustratingly empathetic in the lead that no matter what he does, you root for him. You root for friends who will love him, for someone who will care for him, but it’s the resigned cheerfulness with which he faces any kind of abuse that really just kills you.

This taboo-shattering film is so wrong in so many ways, and yet it’s also lovely, optimistic, sweet, and funny. And just so, so fucked up.

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

Director John McNaughton’s picture offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. He 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.

What’s diabolically fascinating, though, 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.

Rooker’s performance unsettles to the bone, flashing glimpses of an almost sympathetic beast now and again, but there’s never a question that he will do the worst things every time, more out of boredom than anything.

It’s a uniquely awful, absolutely compelling piece of filmmaking.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcM5L-ZBmXk

2. The Loved Ones (2009)

Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés and deftly maneuvers between gritty drama and glittery carnage in a story that borrows from other horror flicks but absolutely tells its own story.

Brent (Xavier Samuel) is dealing with guilt and tragedy in his own way, and his girlfriend Holly tries to be patient with him. Oblivious to all this, Lola (a gloriously wrong-minded Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the end of school dance. He politely declines, which proves to be probably a poor decision.

Inside Lola’s house, we’re privy to the weirdest, darkest image of a spoiled princess and her daddy. The daddy/daughter bonding over power tool related tasks is – well – I’m not sure touching is the right word for it.

The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, unique piece of filmmaking that benefits from McLeavy’s inspired performance as much as it does its filmmaker’s sly handling of subject matter.

1.Oldboy (2003)

This is the one that’s utterly spoiled by the upfront knowledge of incest. It’s also easily the best example of the topic’s handling in a horror film, plus the movie is 17 years old, so we went ahead and included it. Sue us. You were warned.

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 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.

Fright Club: Murderous Mentors

Everybody needs a hand now and then, a little guidance. Everybody, even cold-blooded killers, because murder can be really difficult to pull off. You can’t just google a how-to. I mean, you probably can, but where’s the personal connection? The relationship? The trust.

It’s all here, in our list of the best films focusing on murderous mentors.

5. Addiction (1995)

Like most of director Abel Ferrara’s work, the film is an overtly stylish, rhythmically urban tale of brutal violence, sin and redemption (maybe). Expect drug use, weighty speeches and blood in this tale of a doctoral candidate in philosophy (Lili Taylor) over-thinking her transformation from student to predator.

Taylor cuts an interesting figure as Kathleen, a very grunge-era vampire in her jeans, Doc Martens and oversized, thrift store blazer. She’s joined by an altogether awesome cast—Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco and Christopher Walken among them.

Ferrara parallels Kathleen’s need for blood to drug addiction, but uses her philosophy jibberish to plumb humanity’s historical bloodlust. In monologues and voiceovers, Taylor waxes philosophic as she comes to terms with her own evil nature, and here is where the film nearly implodes. It begins to feel like Ferrara’s real warning is that philosophical pretentiousness spreads like a disease. But just when you are tempted to give up on the pomposity, Walken appears as Kathleen’s vampiric mentor. Thank you.

He injects the film with random violence and nuttiness, as is his way, and Ferrara pays you for your patience and thoughtfulness with viscera aplenty before settling on the uneasy answer that there is no excusing your own bad behavior.

4. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

John Erick Dowdle’s film is a difficult one to watch. It contains enough elements of found footage to achieve realism, enough police procedural to provide structure, and enough grim imagination to give you nightmares.

Edward Carver (Ben Messmer) is a particularly theatrical serial killer, and the film, which takes you into the police academy classroom, asks you to watch his evolution from impetuous brute to unerring craftsman. This evolution we witness mainly through a library of videotapes he’s left behind—along with poor Cheryl Dempsey (Stacy Chbosky)—for the police to find.

Cheryl is Carver’s masterpiece, the one victim he did not kill but instead reformed as his protégé. It’s easily the most unsettling element in a film that manages to shake you without really showing you anything.

3. The Last Horror Movie (2003)

A clever concept handled very craftily, The Last Horror Movie is found footage in that we, the audience, have found this surprising bit of footage recorded over the VHS tape we are apparently watching. What serial killer Max (a top-notch Kevin Howarth) has done, you see, is made a documentary of his ghastly habits and shared them with an audience that has shown, by virtue of the movie it intended to rent just now, its predilection for something grisly.

Like Edward in The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Max wants to pass on his expertise to a protégé. (There’s a reason the audience isn’t quite enough.) He hires an assistant (Mark Stevenson), who helps with the documentary Max is making. The assistant shoots the footage. Max tells the camera, step by step, what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, how he came to the decision. It’s a how-to, really, and the assistant is supposed to be paying attention.

But when push comes to shove, will the assistant have the stomach for it?

2. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Writer/director Scott Glosserman’s film takes us to Glen Echo, Maryland. It’s a small town, exactly the kind of town that would be perfect for a slasher, and Leslie Vernon is just the villain Glen Echo doesn’t know it’s aching for.

This is a mockumentary and an affectionate ode to slashers. It pulls the concept of a documentary crew participating in the crime (a la Man Bites Dog), builds on the expected steps of every slasher film (Scream), and yet somehow feels fresh and fun.

One reason is Nathan Baesel as Leslie. He’s a charming, self-deprecating joy.

The second reason is the whole “training” concept. By way of the documentary being filmed, we’re invited into the hard-core training that goes into becoming the next immortal slasher villain. Not just cardio—although Leslie is very clear on the need for cardio—but all the little skills you can’t just pick up on your own. That’s why Leslie is blessed to have the help of a committed community who wants to see him succeed, including Eugene (Scott Wilson), a retired slasher himself.

Clever, funny and surprisingly adorable, this one’s a keeper.

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

Henry offers an unforgivingly realistic portrayal of evil. Michael Rooker is brilliant as serial killer Henry (based on real-life murderer Henry Lee Lucas). 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.

“You mean to tell me you’ve never killed anybody before?” a disdainful Henry asks Otis, and the mentoring relationship is born. Otis really takes to it, too.

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.

Rooker’s performance unsettles to the bone, flashing glimpses of an almost sympathetic beast now and again, but there’s never a question that he will do the worst things every time, more out of boredom than anything.

It’s a uniquely awful, absolutely compelling piece of filmmaking.

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





Fright Club: Best Serial Killer Movies in Horror

A ripe topic for the genre, serial killers. There’s not much more terrifying than that. And while most films on that theme tend to be police procedurals, plenty of horror movies contend with that loner who thirsts for his (or her) next kill.

Some are done with humor – The Greasy Strangler and Sightseers among the best. Some (Peeping Tom, for instance) give us sympathetic villains. Some (Wolf Creek among them) do not. Others exploit the killers’ exploits for the sake of exploitation. We’re looking at you, Man Bites Dog and The Last Horror Movie.

All those mentioned above are required viewing, but what are the best of the best? Glad you asked!

5. Frailty (2001)

In 2001, actor Bill “We’re toast! Game over!” Paxton took a stab at directing the quietly disturbing supernatural thriller Frailty.

Paxton stars as a widowed 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.

Whatever its flaws – too languid a pace, too trite an image of idyllic country life, Powers Boothe – Frailty manages to subvert every horror film expectation by playing right into them. We’re led through the saga of the serial killer God’s Hand by a troubled young man (Matthew McConaughey), who, with eerie quiet and reflection, recounts his childhood with Paxton’s character as a father.

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 nostalgic familiarity, 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.

4. I Saw the Devil (2010)

Min-sik Choi (Oldboy) plays a predator who picks on the wrong guy’s fiancé.

That grieving fiancé is played by Byung-hun Lee (The Magnificent Seven), whose restrained emotion and elegant good looks perfectly offset Choi’s disheveled explosion of sadistic rage, and we spend 2+ hours witnessing their wildly gruesome game of cat and mouse.

Director Jee-woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters) breathes new life into the serial killer formula. With the help of two strong leads, he upends the old “if I want to catch evil, I must become evil” cliché. What they’ve created is a percussively violent horror show that transcends its gory content to tell a fascinating, if repellant, tale.

Beneath the grisly violence of this unwholesome bloodletting is an undercurrent of honest human pathos – not just sadism, but sadness, anger, and the most weirdly dark humor.

If you can see past the outrageously violent images onscreen, you might notice some really fine acting and nimble storytelling lurking inside this bloodbath.

3. American Psycho (2000)

A giddy hatchet to the head of the abiding culture of the Eighties, American Psycho represents the sleekest, most confident black comedy – perhaps ever. Director Mary Harron trimmed Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, giving it unerring focus. More importantly, the film soars due to Christian Bale’s utterly astonishing performance as narcissist, psychopath, and Huey Lewis fan Patrick Bateman.

There’s an elegant exaggeration to the satire afoot. Bateman is a slick, sleek Wall Street toady, pompous one minute because of his smart business cards and quick entrance into posh NYC eateries, cowed the next when a colleague whips out better cards and shorter wait times. For all his quest for status and perfection, he is a cog indistinguishable from everyone who surrounds him. The more glamour and flash on the outside, the more pronounced the abyss on the inside. What else can he do but turn to bloody, merciless slaughter? It’s a cry for help, really.

Harron’s send up of the soulless Reagan era is breathtakingly handled, from the set decoration to the soundtrack, but the film works as well as a horror picture as it does a comedy. Whether it’s Chloe Sevigny’s tenderness as Bateman’s smitten secretary or Cara Seymour’s world wearied vulnerability, the cast draws a real sense of empathy and dread that complicate the levity. We do not want to see these people harmed, and as hammy as it seems, you may almost call out to them: Look behind you!

As solid as this cast is, and top to bottom it is perfect, every performance is eclipsed by the lunatic genius of Bale’s work. Volatile, soulless, misogynistic and insane, yet somehow he also draws some empathy. It is wild, brilliant work that marked a talent preparing for big things.

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

Henry offers an unforgivingly realistic portrayal of evil. Michael Rooker is brilliant as serial killer Henry (based on real life murderer Henry Lee Lucas). 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.

Director John McNaughton’s picture offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. He 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.

What’s diabolically fascinating, though, 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.

Rooker’s performance unsettles to the bone, flashing glimpses of an almost sympathetic beast now and again, but there’s never a question that he will do the worst things every time, more out of boredom than anything.

It’s a uniquely awful, absolutely compelling piece of filmmaking.

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

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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

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

But it’s Ted Levine who goes underappreciated. Levine’s Buffalo Bill makes such a great counterpoint to Hopkins’s Lecter. He’s all animal – big, lumbering, capable of explosive violence – where Lecter’s all intellect. Buffalo Bill’s a curiously sexual being, where Lecter is all but asexual.

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





Otis, Plug It In

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

by Hope Madden

Unlike any film of its time – horror or otherwise – Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer depicts an unforgivingly realistic portrayal of evil. A deeply disturbing Michael Rooker plays serial killer Henry (based on real-life murderer Henry Lee Lucas). 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 prison buddy Otis (Tom Towles) and Otis’s sister Becky (Tracy Arnold).

Director John McNaughton’s picture offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. He confuses viewers because the characters you identify with are evil. 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.

What’s diabolically fascinating, though, 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.

Rooker’s performance unsettles to the bone, flashing glimpses of an almost sympathetic beast now and again, but there’s never a question that he will do the worst things every time, more out of boredom than anything.

Re-released in time for its 30th anniversary with a 4K scan and restoration from its original 16mm camera negatives, Henry now boasts an even grittier, more unseemly quality. The world McNaughton invites you into feels even more alien and yet lived-in – a world you never imagined existed, but one that feels so authentic you’ll truly believe it does.

This is horror. You should see this.

Verdict-4-5-Stars





Day 17: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1989)

Like Snowtown Murders, released more than two decades later, Henry is an unforgivingly realistic portrayal of evil. Michael Rooker is brilliant as serial killer Henry (based on real life murderer Henry Lee Lucas). 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.

Director John McNaughton’s picture offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. He 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.

What’s diabolically fascinating, though, 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.

Rooker’s performance unsettles to the bone, flashing glimpses of an almost sympathetic beast now and again, but there’s never a question that he will do the worst things every time, more out of boredom than anything.

It’s a uniquely awful, absolutely compelling piece of filmmaking.

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

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





Fright Club: Best True Crime Horror

“Inspired by a true story” is a tag line that has been used beyond the point of meaninglessness. If you google “true story horror movies,” Dracula will come up, for lord’s sake. But there are some films that can take true events and mine them for the psychological underpinnings that chill us all. Here’s a list of our five favorites.

5. Stuck (2007)

A nasty tabloid feature boasting both gallows humor and blood by the gallon, Stuck is an underappreciated gem from director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). Mena Suvari plays a role based on a real life woman who, inebriated, hit a man with her car. The victim became lodged in her windshield. She chose to park her car in the garage and wait for the man to die rather than face the consequences and save his life.

While this sounds unbelievable, the fact that it’s based in true events helps the story build credibility. Stuart’s direction makes the most of the mean laughs available given the subject matter, never taking the situation too seriously, but never treating the victim’s predicament as an outright joke, either.

More impressive, though, is the commitment the cast brings to the proceedings. Suvari offers almost uncalled for nuance and character arc, while Stephen Rea’s crumpled, hangdog appearance belies an intestinal fortitude the driver didn’t see coming.

This is a wild movie, and one that’s far more watchable than the premise may suggest. Like any tabloid trash or car accident, you know you shouldn’t watch, but you just can’t look away.

4. Wolf Creek (2005)

Though Greg McLean wrote the story for Wolf Creek years before the film was made, by the time he polished the screenplay he’d blended in elements from two different Aussie marauders. Ivan Milat was a New South Wales man who kidnapped hitchhikers, torturing and killing them in the woods. Much closer to the time of the film’s release was the case of Bradley John Murdock. He had a tow truck, forced two British tourists off the road, murdering one while the other escaped. Wolf Creek’s actual release was delayed in the northern part of the country where Murdock’s trial was still going on.

Using only digital cameras to enhance an ultra-naturalistic style, McLean’s happy backpackers find themselves immobile outside Wolf Creek National Park when their car stops running. As luck would have it, friendly bushman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) drives up offering a tow back to his camp, where he promises to fix the vehicle. The two different murderers influenced McLean’s tale and Jarrett’s character amiable sadist, but it’s at least comforting to know that this isn’t 100% nonfiction.

3. The Snowtown Murders (2011)

First time filmmaker Justin Kurzel’s movie examines one family’s functional disregard for the law and hinges on the relationship between a charismatic psychopath and a quiet, wayward teen. Unfortunately, The Snowtown Murders mines a true story. John Bunting tortured and killed eleven people during his spree in South Australia in the Nineties.

An unflinching examination of a predator swimming among prey, Snowtown succeeds where many true crime films fail because of its understatement, its casual observational style, and its unsettling authenticity. More than anything, though, the film excels due to one astounding performance.

Daniel Henshall cuts an unimpressive figure on screen – a round faced, smiling schlub. But he brings Bunting an amiability and confrontational fearlessness that provides insight into what draws people to a sadistic madman.

2. Compliance (2012)

Compliance is an unsettling, frustrating and upsetting film about misdirected and misused obedience. It’s also one of the most impeccably made and provocative films of 2012 – a cautionary tale that’s so unnerving it’s easier just to disbelieve. But don’t.

Writter/director Craig Zobel – who began his career as co-creator of the brilliant comic website Homestar Runner (so good!) – takes a decidedly dark turn with this “based-on-true-events” tale. It’s a busy Friday night at a fast food joint and they’re short staffed. Then the police call and say a cashier has stolen some money from a customer’s purse.

A Milgram’s experiment come to life, the film spirals into nightmare as the alleged thief’s colleagues agree to commit increasingly horrific deeds in the name of complying with authority.

Zobel remains unapologetically but respectfully truthful in his self-assured telling. He doesn’t just replay a tragic story, he expertly crafts a tense and terrifying movie. With the help of an anxious score, confident camera work, and a superb cast, Zobel masterfully recreates a scene that’s not as hard to believe as it is to accept.

1. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1989)

Like Snowtown Murders, released more than two decades later, Henry is an unforgivingly realistic portrayal of evil. Michael Rooker is brilliant as serial killer Henry (based on real life murderer Henry Lee Lucas). 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, though, 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.

Director John McNaughton’s picture offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. He 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. It’s a genius technique given the subject, a serial killer who confessed to as many as 3000 killings, most of those discredited as fiction. His film is so nonjudgmental, though, so flatly unemotional, that it’s honestly hard to watch.

Listen to the whole 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.





Halloween Countdown, Day 10

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1989)

Like Snowtown Murders, released more than two decades later, Henry is an unforgivingly realistic portrayal of evil. Michael Rooker is brilliant as serial killer Henry (based on real life murderer Henry Lee Lucas). 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.

Director John McNaughton’s picture offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. He 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.

What’s diabolically fascinating, though, 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.

Rooker’s performance unsettles to the bone, flashing glimpses of an almost sympathetic beast now and again, but there’s never a question that he will do the worst things every time, more out of boredom than anything.

It’s a uniquely awful, absolutely compelling piece of filmmaking.