Fright Club: Pregnancy Horror

It’s nearly Mother’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than to reminisce on the hell that is pregnancy? Oh, what our mothers go through just for us! The handicapping size, the fear of demonic possession, zombiism, blood-thirstiness…well, the list just goes on forever. And so do the horror movie options. Lucky for you (and your mom!), we’ve pruned that list to just the five best.

5. Jug Face (2013)

Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle brings together a fine cast including The Woman’s Sean Bridgers and Lauren Ashley Carter, as well as genre favorite Larry Fessenden and late-life scream queen Sean Young to spin a backwoods yarn about incest, premonitions, kiln work, and a monster in a pit.

As a change of pace, Bridgers plays a wholly sympathetic character as Dawai, village simpleton and jug artist. On occasion, a spell comes over Dawai, and when he wakes, there’s a new jug on the kiln that bears the likeness of someone else in the village. That lucky soul must be fed to the monster in the pit so life can be as blessed and peaceful as before.

Kinkle mines for more than urban prejudice in his horror show about religious isolationists out in them woods. Young is particularly effective as an embittered wife, while Carter, playing a pregnant little sister trying to hide her bump, a jug, and an assortment of other secrets, steals the show.

4. The Brood (1979)

Dr. Hal Ragland – the unsettlingly sultry Oliver Reed – is Hal’s a psychiatrist leading the frontier in psychoplasmics. His patients work through their pent-up rage by turning it into physical manifestations. Some folks’ rage turns into ugly little pustules, for example. Or, for wide-eyed Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), rage might turn into bloodthirsty, puffy coated spawn. This is Cronenberg’s reimagining of procreation, and it is characteristically foul.

Cronenberg is the king of corporeal horror, and The Brood is among the best of the filmmaker’s early, strictly genre work. Reed and Eggar both are unseemly perfection in their respective roles. Eggar uses her huge eyes to emphasize both her former loveliness and her current dangerous insanity, while Reed is just weird in that patented Oliver Reed way.

But it’s the climactic image of procreation – of motherhood and childbirth – and the way the filmmaker and his leading lady subvert that life-giving moment, turning it into something beastly, that will stick with you.

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

3. Sheitan (2006)

The fantastic Vincent Cassel stars as the weirdest handyman ever, spending a decadent Christmas weekend with a rag tag assortment of nightclub refugees. After Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) is tossed from the club, his mates and the girls they’re flirting with head out to spend the weekend at Eve’s (a not-shy Roxane Mesquida). Way out in rural France, they meet Eve’s handyman, his very pregnant wife, and a village full of borderline freaks.

It’s a ripe scene: sinners sinning at Christmas, inbred freaks, creepy dolls, impending childbirth.

The film is savagely uncomfortable and refreshingly unusual. Cassel’s performance (or, performances, so to speak) offer the work of lunatic genius, and his time onscreen is never less than memorable. It’s the kind of horror movie you’ll only find in France.

2. Inside (2007)

Beatrice Dalle’s insidious performance is hard to shake. Fearless, predatory, pitiless and able to take an enormous amount of abuse, her nameless character stalks a very, very pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis). Sarah lost her husband in a car crash some months back, and now, on the eve of Christmas, she sits, enormous, uncomfortable, and melancholy about the whole business. She’s grown cynical and despondent, more depressed than excited about giving birth in the morning.

Alexandre Bustillo’s film seeks to change her mind, make her want that baby. Because Dalle’s lurking menace certainly wants it. Her black clad silhouette is in the back yard, smoking and stalking – and she has seriously bad plans in mind.

Bustillo and directing partner Julien Maury swing the film from intelligent white collar angst to goretastic bloodfest with ease. The sadistic humor Dalle brings to the performance adds chills, and Paradis’s realistic, handicapping size makes her vulnerability palpable.

1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Along with Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976), Rosemary’s Baby is part of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” – disturbing films of tension and horror in which metropolitan life and nosey neighbors conspire to drive a person mad.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Polanski takes all the glamour out of Satanism – with a huge assist from Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her turn as the highly rouged busybody Minnie Castevet. By now we all know what happens to poor Rosemary Woodhouse, but back in’69, thanks much to Mia Farrow’s vulnerable performance, the film boiled over with paranoid tension. Was poor, pregnant Rosemary losing it, or was she utterly helpless and in evil hands?

Fright Club: Best Creature Features

SciFi and horror don’t always play well together, but our one commonality will forever bridge the waters separating our nerdiness: creature features. For whatever reason, tales of oversized monsters, generally unleashed at the hands of mad science, appeals to both crowds even more than a marauding serial killer in a Shatner mask. Today we celebrate that common ground by counting down the five best creature features in horror.

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

5. The Fly (1986)

After a couple of interesting, if un-medical films, the great David Cronenberg made a triumphant return to the laboratory of the mad scientist in his most popular film to date.

But it’s not just Cronenberg’s disturbed genius for images and ideas that makes The Fly fly; it’s the performance he draws from Jeff Goldblum.

Goldblum is an absolute gift to this film, so endearing in his pre-Brundlefly nerdiness. He’s the picture’s heartbeat, and it’s more than the fact that we like his character so much. The actor also performs heroically under all those prosthetics.

He and Geena Davis make the perfect pair, with their matching height and mullets, and their onscreen chemistry does give the film a level of human drama traditionally lacking from the Cronenberg canon. Atop that, there’s the transformation scene in the bathroom – the fingernails, the pustules – all classic Cronenberg grotesquerie, and still difficult to watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BzwxJ-M_M0

 

4. The Descent (2005)

The film begins with an emotionally jolting shock, quickly follows with some awfully unsettling cave crawling and squeezing and generally hyperventilating, then turns dizzyingly panicky before it snaps 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.

Writer/director Neil Marshall makes incredible use of the story’s structure. Between that and the way film and sound editing are employed, Marshall squeezes every available ounce of anxiety from the audience.

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 clever and frightening werewolf adventure. But Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier.

For full-on horror, this is one hell of a monster movie.

3. The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World concocts a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination, and mutation.

A beard-tastic cast portrays a team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic who take in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.

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.

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.

 

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

 

2. Alien (1979)

Director Ridley Scott’s other masterpiece, Alien, traps a crew aboard a rickety, dark, workingman’s spacecraft with the coolest monster perhaps ever.

After a vagina-hand-sucker-monster attaches itself to your face, it gestates inside you, then tears through your innards. Then it grows exponentially, hides a second set of teeth, and bleeds acid. How much cooler could this possibly be?

Compare that to the crew, and the competition seems unreasonably mismatched. The sunken-chested Harry Dean Stanton, the screechy Veronica Cartwright, the sinister Ian Holm, the mustachioed Tom Skerritt, even the mulleted Sigourney Weaver – they all seem doomed before we even get to know them.

Much ado has been made, rightfully so, of the John Hurt Chest Explosion (I loved their early work, before they went commercial). But Scott’s lingering camera leaves unsettling impressions in far simpler ways, starting with the shot of all those eggs.

 

 

1. Jaws (1975)

Twentysomething Steven Spielberg’s game-changer boasts many things, among them one of the greatest threesomes in cinematic history. The interplay among the grizzled and possibly insane sea captain Quint (Robert Shaw), the wealthy young upstart marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and the decent lawman/endearing everyman Brody (Roy Scheider) helps the film transcend horror to become simply a great movie.

It’s John Williams’s iconic score; it’s Bill Butler’s camera and Verna Fields’s editing, capturing all the majesty and the terror, but never too much of the shark; it’s Spielberg’s cinematic eye. It all works, together with very fine performances, to mine for a primal terror of the unknown, of the natural order of predator and prey.

Spielberg achieved one of the rare adaptations that betters the source material. Though Peter Benchley’s nautical novel attracted droves of fans, Spielberg streamlined the text and surpassed its climax to craft a sleek terror tale.

Jaws is the high water mark for animal terror. Likely it always will be.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCjDa44S3kI

 

Fright Club: Not Quite Zombies

Zombie films are legion, easily becoming the go-to monster of our generation. Part of the draw is that the horde can represent almost anything, like a modern tech-addicted population that’s lost touch with the living world. But do these dangerous, mindless beasts need to be dead already? Because living things seem to move a lot faster, and contamination is contamination, whether your brain is literally eaten or just taken from you.

Here’s our salute to all the not-quite-zombie movies out there!

5. Splinter (2008)

Road kill, a carjacking, an abandoned gas station, some quills – it doesn’t take much for first time feature filmmaker and longtime visual effects master Toby Wilkins to get under your skin. One cute couple just kind of wants to camp in Oklahoma’s ancient forest (which can never be a good idea, really). Too bad a couple of ne’er-do-wells needs their car. Then a flat (what was that – a porcupine? No!!) sends them to that creepy gas station, and all hell breaks loose.

Contamination gymnastics call to mind the great John Carpenter flick The Thing, but Splinter is its own animal. Characters have depth and arcs, the danger is palpable, the kills pretty amazing, and the overall aesthetic of that old highway gives everything a desperately lonesome quality where you believe anything could happen and no rescue is in sight.

4. Slither (2006)

Writer/director James Gunn took the best parts of B-movie Night of the Creeps and Cronenberg’s They Came from Within, mashing the pieces into the exquisitely funny, gross, and terrifying Slither.

A Troma alum with writing credits ranging from Scooby-Do movies to the remake of Dawn of the Dead, Gunn possessed all the raw materials to pull it off. The film is equal parts silly and smart, grotesque and endearing, original and homage. More importantly, it’s just plain awesome.

Cutie pie Starla (Elizabeth Banks) is having some marital problems. Her husband Grant (the great horror actor Michael Rooker) is at the epicenter of an alien invasion. Smalltown sheriff Bill Pardy (every nerd girls’ imaginary boyfriend, Nathan Fillion) tries to set things straight as a giant mucous ball, a balloonlike womb-woman, a squid monster, projectile vomit, zombies, and loads and loads of slugs keep the action really hopping.

Consistently funny, cleverly written, well-paced, tense and scary and gross – Slither has it all. Watch it. Do it!

3. The Crazies (1973/2010)

Just three years after Night of the Living Dead, the master found himself interested in taking his zombiism concepts in a different direction.

Two combat veterans are at the center of the film, in which a chemical weapon is accidentally leaked into the water supply to a Pennsylvania town. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in this film.

Romero may not have always had the biggest budget, best actors, or the keenest eye for composition, but his ideas were so ahead of their time that modern horror would not exist in its current form without him. You can see Romero’s ideas and images from this film repeated in 28 Days Later, Return of the Living Dead, The Signal, Cabin Fever, Super 8, even Rambo – and, obviously, in the remake.

Breck Eisner’s 2010 reboot offers solid scares, inventive plotting, and far better performances.

Building a cumulative sense of entrapment and dread, the film relies on a storyline whisper-close to the overplayed zombie tale, but deviates in a powerful way. The slight alteration plumbs a different kind of terror, and Eisner’s sense of timing provides a fine balance between fear of the unknown and horror of the inevitable.

2. The Thing (1982)

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 themes, and concocting a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination and mutation.

A beard-tastic cast portrays a team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic who take in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.

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.

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.

1. 28 Days Later (2002)

Prior to 28 Days Later, the zombie genre seemed finally dead and gone. But he single handedly resurrected the genre with two new(ish) ideas: 1) they weren’t dead, 2) therefore, they could move really quickly.

You know you’re in trouble from the genius opening sequence: vulnerability, tension, bewilderment, rage and blood – it marks a frantic and terrifying not-zombie film. They were not dead, you see, just super pissed off.

Danny Boyle uses plenty of ideas Romero introduced, pulling loads of images from The Crazies and Day of the Dead, in particular (as well as Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder). But he revolutionized the genre – sparking the rebirth of zombie movies – with just a handful of terrifying tweaks. Boyle paints a terrifyingly realistic vision of an apocalypse we could really bring on ourselves.

Listen to the podcast HERE.

Fright Club: Top 5 Takashi Miike Films

When we decided to start devoting entire podcasts to individual filmmakers, Takashi Miike was an obvious choice. He’s made 86 movies (and counting), so we knew it wouldn’t be too tough to find 5 really good ones. His imagination is like no other and his films push the envelope in terms of violence, subversive imagery, surreal storytelling, and violence. (Yes, we said that twice. He’s really, really good with violence.)

In fact, it was hard to narrow it down and even harder to leave some of his non-horror masterpieces, like 13 Assassins, off the list. Still, we did it. Here we give you Takashi Miike’s 5 best horror movies.

5. Three…Extremes (2004)

Miike directed one of the three shorts in this collection, a tidy little freakshow called “Box.”

Part of the reason it made this list is that the full film, including Fruit Chan’s “Dumplings” and the great Chan-wook Park’s “Cut,” is among the very best short compilation films you’ll find. Each short is so peculiar and original that your interest never wanes.

Miike’s component tells the story of a haunted, damaged woman. Her waking reality and dreams of the horror from her past weave together so that neither she nor the viewer is ever certain which is which. Sexual repression, incestuous undertones, dreamy colors, bodily contortions, and a dizzying, overlapping storyline mark this as a very Miike work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rIz7WEKGTs

4. Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

Miike is an extremely prolific director. He makes a lot of musical films, a lot of kids’ movies, a lot of horror movies, and then this – a mashup of all of those things. Like Sound of Music with a tremendous body count.

The Katakuris just want to run a rustic mountain inn. They’re not murderers. They’re lovely – well, they’re losers, but they’re not bad people. Buying this piece of property did nothing to correct their luck, either because, my God, their guests do die.

You might call this a dark comedy if it weren’t so very brightly lit. It’s absurd, farcical, gruesome but sweet. There’s a lot of singing, some animation, a volcano, a bit of mystery, more singing, one death by sumo smothering, and love. It sounds weird, truly, but when it comes to weird, Miike is just getting started.

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

3. Gozu (2003)

This one starts off as a yakuza film – one guy on a mob-style assignment – then descends into absolute madness.

Minami (Yuta Sone) has been ordered to assassinate his feeble-minded yakuza boss Ozaki (Sho Aikawa), but he’s conflicted. Then he loses him and wanders, in search, into – you might say it was the Twilight Zone, except this place is considerably weirder. There’s a minotaur. An electrified anal soup ladle death scene. Some seriously, seriously weird shit.

Like a walk through somebody’s subconscious, the film is awash in repressed sexual desires of the very most insane and unspeakable. There’s a comical element that’s almost equally unsettling. Gozu is not as violent as many Miike films – it’s violent, don’t be mistaken, but the horror here is more in unseemly behavior and wildly inappropriate imagery.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=penZT2N2xDw

2. Ichi the Killer (2001)

Not everyone considers Ichi the Killer an outright horror film. IMDB classifies it as action/comedy/crime, and while it certainly contains all three of those elements, for sheer carnage, not to mention torture, we have to tack on the horror label as well.

Dubious henchmen with a secret weapon – a childlike perv they’ve programmed to kill at their bidding – start a yakuza war by throwing misleading information about the disappearance of one mob boss. He’s being tracked by his really, really, super loyal second in command, Kakihara. (That’s the guy with the incredibly cool/freaky split face from the DVD cover.)

Kakihara’s boss is dead, but he believes he may be kidnapped. He starts kidnapping those who might be to blame, torturing them pretty outlandishly. It’s kind of his art – Kakihara likes to give and receive punishment. Ichi likes to masturbate while others suffer. He comes to consider himself a kind of superhero. Kakihara believes he may be a superhero and really, really wants Ichi to beat him up or die trying.

The childlike Ichi misunderstands everything, and you long for his redemption and happiness, but Miike pulls that rug out from under you because, basically, every person in this film is seriously deranged.

1. Audition (1999)

Audition tells the story of a widower convinced by his TV producer friend to hold mock television auditions as a way of finding a suitable new mate. He is repaid for his deception.

Unwatchable and yet too compelling to turn away from, Audition is a remarkable piece of genre filmmaking. The slow moving picture builds anticipation, then dread, then full-on horror.

Miike punctuates the film midway with one of the most effective startles in modern horror, and then picks up pace, building grisly momentum toward a perversely uncomfortable climax. By the time Audition hits its ghastly conclusion, Miike and his exquisitely terrifying antagonist (Eihi Shina) have wrung the audience dry.

Keep an eye on the burlap sack.