Fright Club: Best Sound Design in Horror

Aside from maybe the musical, there is no genre in film more dependent on sound for audience response. From the creaks, groans and jangling chains of old fashioned haunted house pics to the hiss and slither of modern monster movies, things can hardly go bump in the night if you can’t hear the bump. So George sat down and determined the best examples of sound design in horror.

That’s right, George is driving. Did Hope recommend any movies to consider when thinking through the best use of sound in horror? She did. Did any make the list?

They did not.

Well, turnabout is fair play and sound is definitely George’s jam. So here, friends and Fright Clubbers, are George’s picks for the best sound design in horrorl

5. It Follows (2014)

Like A Quiet Place and Us, It Follows is a perfect example of how modern filmmakers are molding the soundtrack with sound effects and even score to create the sound experience.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell, working with Disasterpeace on a score that incorporated music, ambient sound and sound effects, develops an immersive, nightmarish environment for the imagination to flourish. The synths reflect the film’s difficult-to-pin-down time period, simultaneously reflecting a recent past as well as a currency. Meanwhile, creaky doors and blowing wind call to mind old fashioned scares.

The score almost doesn’t sound like a score, and the sound sets a different mood every time the different demon appears. Few films are this masterful in the way it brings together sound track and sound effects. Together they create an inescapable mood.

4. The Haunting (1963)

Director Robert Wise obviously knew the importance of sound coming into this film, sitting, as it does, between his two biggest efforts, West Side Story and The Sound of Music. But musicals are not the only films that really deserve close attention to sound. What you hear is even more important than what you see in a good old fashioned ghost story.

We wanted to make sure the list included at least one example of old school Foley-style sound. Wise worked with AW Watkins, 4-time Oscar nominee for sound design (Doctor Zhivago, Libel, Knights of the Round Table, Goodbye Mr. Chips).

This is a great example of old time Foley sound effects used to create the mood, making things you can’t see scary.

3. The Lighthouse (2019)

The atmosphere is thick and brisk as sea fog, immersing you early with Jarin Blasche’s chilly black and white cinematography and a Damian Volpe sound design echoing of loss and one persistent, ominous foghorn.

For everything Eggers brings to bear, from the Bergmanesque lighting and spiritual undertones to the haunting score to the scrupulous set design to images suitable for framing in a maritime museum – not to mention the script itself – The Lighthouse works because of two breathtaking performances.

But what a world Eggers and crew create for Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe.

2. Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Madman Peter Strickland (In Fabric) made an entire film about sound, and it gets so much right. Not just about sound—about the era, the equipment, giallo sensibilities and moviemaking.

Strickland, working with a sound department of 34, creates a psychological experience through sound almost exclusively. The amazing Toby Jones plays Gilderoy, flown in specifically to helm the sound in a horror movie.

“This isn’t a horror movie. This is a Santini movie!”

Gilderoy’s arc is profound, and sound is our only window into what is changing him. We don’t see what he sees, only his reaction to it and the sound of it that makes his psychological breakdown believable.

1. Alien (1979)

The great soundman Ben Burtt, with an impressive team and the direction of Ridley Scott, uses silence as another instrument in the terrifying sound design for this film.

Given the tag line, that powerful use of silence is more than evocative, it’s required. But layered in, Burtt offers plenty of aural evidence that this spaceship is not like those we were used to seeing onscreen. The Nostromo is no sleek vehicle. Creeks and chains, water leaks and thudding echoes depict a dilapidated bucket of bolts, giving Alien a creaky old house atmosphere.

From the chest bursting, Ash’s unattached vocal cord gurgling to the hissing sound the creature makes as he announces his presence, the sounds in this film have been copied and retooled as often as its storyline and look. But there is only one first time.

Fright Club: Tortured Romance

A lot of horror romances don’t work out. Whether it’s the demon/internet connection hoping to impregnate you, the stalker/voyeur/vampire obsessed with you, or that dreamy girl who turns into a hungry panther every time she’s aroused – finding Mr. or Ms. Right in a horror movie can prove dangerous.

Let’s not even talk about prom dates.

Here are five of our favorite examples of the dire, bloody, terrifying reason that following your heart is not always your best bet.

5. Scream (1996)

Oh, poor Sidney Prescot (Neve Campbell). Her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) is practically Johnny Depp levels of hot, but ever since that thing with her mom, Sid can’t get intimate. Plus, Billy Loomis might be the town’s serial killer.

No, love doesn’t turn out great for Sid and Billy. Or for Tatum (Rose McGowan) and Stu (Matthew Lillard). Or for Mr. and Mrs. Prescott. In fact, the only romance that seems to flourish at all ends up giving one guy a terrible limp.

4. It Follows (2014)

Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay (Maika Monroe) discovers that she is cursed. He has passed on some kind of entity – a demonic menace that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes it on to someone else the same way she got it.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable, and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.

3. Trouble Every Day (2001)

Backed by a plaintive, spooky soundtrack by Tindersticks, Clair Denis’s metaphorical erotic horror examines gender roles, sex and hunger. Denis is one of France’s more awarded and appreciated auteurs, so a one-time voyage into horror should not be dismissed.

A newlywed American couple head to Paris, ostensibly to honeymoon, but Shane (Vincent Gallo) is really there to re-establish connection with old colleagues Coré (Béatrice Dalle) and her husband, Léo (Alex Descas). The three scientists once participated in an experiment, and Shane needs to find them.

The film is a startling work of biologic-horror, but its existential riffs on intimacy, dominance and violence—common fare in the genre—are clearer-headed and more disturbing here than in anything else that swims the same murky waters.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz5VlZc8tC4

2. Get Out (2017)

Writer/director Jordan Peele crafts an impeccable horror based in social anxiety, articulating something more relevant and powerful than anything horror had undertaken in decades. His is a brilliant take on modern racism, cultural appropriation and horror.

On a less metaphorical level, it’s also a look at a really, really bad romance. Poor Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) agrees to spend the weekend with his girl Rose (Allison Williams) and her parents, meeting the family and participating in a big, rich-white-people party.

But Rose’s relationships don’t turn out so rosy. Just ask Georgina and Walter.

1. Audition (1999)

The prolific director Takashi Miike made more than 70 movies in his first 20 or so years in film. Among the best is Audition, a phenomenally creepy May/December romance gone very, very wrong.

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.

Nearly 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.

By the time Audition hits its ghastly conclusion, Miike and his exquisitely terrifying antagonist (Eihi Shina) have wrung the audience dry. She will not be the ideal stepmother.





Fright Club: Sex + Death

I know what you’re thinking. Sex and death—that could be literally any film in the genre. Aaah, yes, but we’re not talking metaphorically or even loosely connected. Sure, the quickest way onto Michael Meyers’s or Jason Voorhees’s kill list is by having sex, but that’s not immediate enough. Let’s disregard the middle man, lose the pause, and go right to the horror films where sex and death are immediately, gorily and irreversibly linked.

Happy Valentine’s Day, by the way!

5. Killer Condom (1996)

A Troma-distributed splatter/horror/comedy, Killer Condom is an enormous amount of fun. This is a German film—German actors delivering lines in German—but it’s set in NYC. You can tell because of the frequent shots of someone opening a New York Times newspaper machine.

Luigi Mackeroni (Udo Samel) is the grizzled NYC detective who longs for the good old days in Sicily. In German. He’s assigned to a crime scene in a seedy Time Square motel he knows too well, where it appears that women just keep biting off men’s penises.

Or do they?

This film is refreshingly gay, to start with, as nearly every major character in the film is a homosexual. The run-of-the-mill way this is handled is admirable, even when it is used for cheap laughs. (Babette, I’m looking at you).

It’s fun. It’s funny. It’s gory and wrong-headed and entertaining from start to finish. Who’d have guessed?

4. Teeth (2007)

Of all the films built on the hysteria of impending womanhood, few are as specific as Teeth, a film in which a pubescent discovers a sharp set where teeth ought not be. This is a dark comedy and social satire that is uncomfortable to watch no matter your gender, although I imagine it may be a bit rougher on men.

Treading on the dread of coming-of-age and turning male-oriented horror clichés on ear, Teeth uses the metaphor implicit in vagina dentata—a myth originated to bespeak the fear of castration—to craft a parable about the dangers as well as the power of sexual awakening.

Written and directed by artist (and Ohioan!) Roy Lichtenstein’s son Mitchell, Teeth boasts an irreverent if symbol-heavy script with a strong and believable lead performance (Jess Weixler).

Weixler’s evolution from naïveté to shock to guilt to empowerment never ceases to captivate, but the story itself settles for something more conventional and predictable than what the shockingly original first two acts suggest.

3. Trouble Every Day (2001)

Backed by a plaintive, spooky soundtrack by Tindersticks, Clair Denis’s metaphorical erotic horror examines gender roles, sex and hunger. Denis is one of France’s more awarded and appreciated auteurs, so a one-time voyage into horror should not be dismissed.

A newlywed American couple head to Paris, ostensibly to honeymoon, but Shane (Vincent Gallo) is really there to re-establish connection with old colleagues Coré (Béatrice Dalle) and her husband, Léo (Alex Descas). The three scientists once participated in an experiment, and Shane needs to find them.

The film is a startling work of biologic-horror, but its existential riffs on intimacy, dominance and violence—common fare in the genre—are clearer-headed and more disturbing here than in anything else that swims the same murky waters.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz5VlZc8tC4

2. Raw (2016)

What you’ll find in first-time filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s Raw is a thoughtful coming-of-age tale. And meat.

A college freshman and vegetarian from a meat-free family, Justine (Garance Marillier) objects to the hazing ritual of eating a piece of raw meat. But once she submits to peer pressure and tastes that taboo, her appetite is awakened and it will take more and more dangerous, self-destructive acts to indulge her blood lust.

The film often feels like a cross between Trouble Every Day and Anatomy. The latter, a German film from 2000, follows a prudish med student dealing with carnage and peer pressure. In the former, France’s Claire Denis directs a troubling parable combining sexual desire and cannibalism.

Ducournau has her cagey way with the same themes that populate any coming-of-age story – pressure to conform, peer pressure generally, societal order and sexual hysteria. Here all take on a sly, macabre humor that’s both refreshing and unsettling.

1. It Follows (2014)

It Follows is yet another coming-of-age tale, one that mines a primal terror. Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay (Maika Monroe) discovers that she is cursed. He has passed on some kind of entity – a demonic menace that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes it on to someone else the same way she got it.

Yes, it’s the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex.

Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable, and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.





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





Fright Club: Coming of Age Horror

For many – perhaps most – coming of age is a horror in and of itself, full of confusion, embarrassment, personality change, even blood. Which is why it is ripe fodder for horror, a genre that has plumbed the depths of adolescent despair for any number of monster movies, slashers, camping horrors, and nasty prom dates. Today we celebrate the unmitigated horror of burgeoning adulthood with our list of the five best Coming of Age horror films, with the help of Get It Together podcasters Pete Stroup and David Huff.

 

5. Ginger Snaps

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

On the evening of Ginger’s first period, she’s bitten by a werewolf. Writer Karen Walton cares not for subtlety: the curse, get it? It turns out, lycanthropy makes for a pretty vivid metaphor for puberty. This turn of events proves especially provocative and appropriate for a film that upends many mainstay female cliches.

Walton’s wickedly humorous script stays in your face with the metaphors, successfully building an entire film on clever turns of phrase, puns, and analogies, stirring up the kind of hysteria that surrounds puberty, sex, reputations, body hair, and one’s own helplessness to these very elements. It’s as insightful a high school horror film as you’ll find, peppered equally with dark humor and gore.

 

 

4. Let the Right One In

In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flicks in years. A spooky coming of age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure.

Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Lina Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

This is a coming of age film full of life lessons and adult choices, told with a tremendous atmosphere of melancholy, tainted innocence, and isolation. Plus the best swimming pool carnage scene ever.

The unsettling scene is so uniquely handled, not just for horrifying effect (which it certainly achieves), but to reinforce the two main characters, their bond, and their roles. It’s beautiful, like the strangely lovely film itself.

 

 

3. Carrie

The seminal film about teen angst and high school carnage has to be Brian De Palma’s 1976 landmark adaptation of Stephen 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.

Sure the film opens like a ‘70s soft core porno, with images created by a director who has clearly never been in a girls’ locker room and therefore chose to depict the one in his dirty, dirty mind. But as soon as the bloody stream punctures the dreamlike shower sequence, we witness the definitive moment in Mean Girl Cinema. The “plug it up” refrain, coupled with Sissy Spacek’s authentic, even animalistic portrayal of panic, sets a tone for the film. Whatever Carrie may do, we (the voyeurs, no doubt more like the normal kids than like Carrie) are to blame.

This film exposes a panic about the onslaught of womanhood. The same panic informs <em>The Exorcist</em> and dozens of others, but De Palma’s version offers more sympathy than most. Spacek is the perfect balance of freckle-faced vulnerability and awed vengeance.

 

 

2. It Follows

It Follows is a coming of age tale that mines a primal terror.  Yes, it’s the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex.

Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.

 

 

1. The Witch

Ideas of gender inequality, sexual awakening, slavish devotion to dogma, and isolationism roil beneath the surface of this film, yet the tale itself is deceptively simple. One family, fresh off the boat from England in 1630 and expelled from their puritanical village, sets up house and farm in a clearing near a wood.

There William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) will raise their five children: the infant Samuel, young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), nearly adolescent Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and the eldest, Tomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), nearly a woman now.

As a series of grim catastrophes befalls the family, members turn on members with ever-heightening hysteria. The Witch creates an atmosphere of the most intimate and unpleasant tension, a sense of anxiety that builds relentlessly and traps you along with this helpless, miserable family.

As frenzy and paranoia feed on ignorance and helplessness, tensions balloon to bursting. You are trapped as they are trapped in this inescapable mess, where man’s overanxious attempt to purge himself absolutely of his capacity for sin only opens him up to the true evil lurking, as it always is, in the woods.

 





Fright Club: Best Horror Films of 2015

The year is over and the time has come to assess the damage. What were the best the genre had to offer in 2015? New Zealand came up big, while new filmmakers, creepy twins, and potentially contagious horrors kept us awake this year.

Not that this was an easy list to compile. We enlisted the assistance of Senior Filmmaker Correspondent Jason Tostevin for some wisdom, which led to some polite disagreement, but we thank him all the same! Listen to the whole argument, errr, podcast HERE.

5. What We Do in the Shadows

In the weeks leading up to the Unholy Masquerade – a celebration for Wellington, New Zealand’s surprisingly numerous undead population – a documentary crew begins following four vampire flatmates.

Viago (co-writer/co-director Taika Waititi) – derided by the local werewolf pack as Count Fagula – acts as our guide. He’s joined by Vladislav (co-writer/co-director Jemaine Clement), who describes his look as “dead but delicious.” There’s also Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) – the newbie at only 187 years old – and Petyr. Styled meticulously and delightfully on the old Nosferatu Count Orlock, Petyr is 8000 years old and does whatever he wants.

Besides regular flatmate spats about who is and is not doing their share of dishes and laying down towels before ruining an antique fainting couch with blood stains, we witness some of the modern tribulations of the vampire. It’s hard to get into the good clubs (they have to be invited in) or find a virgin. Forget about tolerating the local pack of werewolves (led by the utterly hilarious alpha Rhys Darby).

The filmmakers know how to mine the absurd just as well as they handle the hum drum minutia. The balance generates easily the best mock doc since Christopher Guest. It was also the first great comedy of 2015.

5. Deathgasm

That’s right – it’s a good, old fashioned Kiwi Tie for 5th place.

New Zealand teenage outcast Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) knows he and his friends are losers, so of course they start a band to get loud and be cool! But when their rocking involves playing an ancient piece of music known as the Black Hymn, they unwittingly summon an evil entity and the body count starts rising.

In his feature debut, writer/director Jason Lei Howden, a veteran of Peter Jackson’s special effects team, borrows heavily from Shaun of the Dead-style pacing and camerawork while managing to poke some blood-spattered fun at the “devil music” stereotypes often thrown at heavy metal.

You’ll find plenty of laughs, some rom-com elements, and winning performances from both Cawthorne and Kimberley Crossman as Medina, the school beauty who can also swing a pretty mean ax.

Clever and surprisingly self-aware, Deathgasm is fine excuse to feed your inner metalhead.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4m6BIvN3ggM

4. Bone Tomahawk

In a year rife with exceptional Westerns, this film sets itself apart. S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut embraces the mythos of the Wild West, populating a familiar frontier town with weathered characters, but casting those archetypes perfectly. Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins, in particular, easily inhabit the upright sheriff and eccentric side kick roles, while Patrick Wilson’s committed turn as battered heroic lead offers an emotional center.

Zahler effortlessly blends the horror and Western genres, remaining true to both and crafting a film that’s a stellar entry into either category. Bone Tomahawk looks gorgeous and boasts exceptional writing, but more than anything, it offers characters worthy of exploration. There are no one-note victims waiting to be picked off, but instead an assortment of fascinating people and complex relationships all wandering into mystical, bloody danger.

Because the true horror is a long time coming and you’re genuinely invested in the participants in this quest, the payoff is deeply felt. This is a truly satisfying effort, and one that marks a new filmmaker to keep an eye on.

3. Goodnight Mommy

There is something eerily beautiful about Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s rural Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh).

During one languid summer, twin brothers Lukas and Elias await their mother’s return from the hospital. They spend their time bouncing on a trampoline, floating in a pond, or exploring the fields and woods around the house. But when their mom comes home, bandaged from the cosmetic surgery she underwent, the brothers fear more has changed than just her face.

Inside this elegantly filmed environment, where sun dappled fields lead to leafy forests, the filmmakers mine a kind of primal childhood fear. Their graceful storytelling leads you down one path before utterly upending everything you think you know. They never spoon feed you information, depending instead on your astute observation – a refreshing approach in this genre.

The film is going to go where you don’t expect it to go, even if you expect you’ve uncovered its secrets.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hisSd7qyY40

2. The Nightmare

An effective scary movie is one that haunts your dreams long after the credits roll. It’s that kind of impact most horror buffs are seeking, but even the most ardent genre fan will hope out loud that Rodney Ascher’s new documentary The Nightmare doesn’t follow them to sleep.

His film explores sleep paralysis. It’s a sleep disorder – or a label hung on the world’s most unfortunate night terrors – that’s haunted humanity for eons. And dig this – it sounds like it might be contagious.

Ascher’s a fascinating, idiosyncratic filmmaker. His documentaries approach some dark, often morbid topics with a sense of wonder. His films never push an agenda, and he doesn’t seem to have made up his mind on his subject matter. Instead, his is open-mided approach which, in turn, iinvites the audience to follow suit.

It’s not all earnest sleuthing, though, because Ascher is a real showman. What’s intriguing is the way he draws your attention to his craftsmanship – like framing a shot so you see the speaker not head on, but in a large mirror’s reflection, then leaving the reflection of the cameraman’s arm in the same shot. Touches like this never feel amateurish, but they don’t really feel like a cinematic wink, either. Instead it becomes a way to release the tension, and remind you that you are, indeed, watching a movie… a heartbreaking, terrifying movie.

We spend a great deal of time watching horror movies, and we cannot remember an instance that we considered turning off a film for fear that we would dream about it later. Until now.

1. It Follows

David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in more than a decade.
Yes, It Follows is the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex.

Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.





Day 31: It Follows

It Follows (2015)

David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in more than a decade.

It Follows is a coming of age tale that mines a primal terror. Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay discovers that she is cursed. He has passed on some kind of entity – a demonic menace that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes it on to someone else the same way she got it.

Yes, it’s the STD of horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex.

Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

And though the entire effort boasts the naturalism of an indie drama, this is a horror film and Mitchell’s influences are on display. From the autumnal suburban loveliness of the opening sequence to the constantly slinking camera, the film bears an unabashed resemblance to John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.

Maika Monroe – hot off an excellent turn in The Guest – anchors a cast of believable teens, absent mindedly bored with their adolescence. The performances across the board are fresh and realistic. The gang of buddies movies languidly toward adulthood in a time outside time – their lives speckled with TV antennas and wall phones but also e-readers. This inconcrete time period allows the film a nostalgic quality that any audience can tap into.

The shape shifting entity itself appears in a variety of forms, each a more lurid image direct from some nightmare.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable, and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.

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





Countdown: Best in Film through Half of 2015

Believe it or not, 2015 is officially half over. It’s been a pretty big half, though – July through December has its work cut out for it if it hopes to stand up. While historical Supreme Court rulings and heartbreaking tragedies are the items we will remember the longest, there were also some great movies released in the first half of this year that deserve a mention. Here are the best films of the first half of the year.

10. Spy
Spy is the latest team-up for director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy, who gave us the hilarity of Bridesmaids and its one-for-the-ages character of Megan. (They will collaborate again in what may be the most inspired reboot of them all, Ghostbusters.) Feig also gets writing credit for Spy, and it’s hard to believe he didn’t craft the script especially for McCarthy. Beyond creating a boisterous, hilarious, perfectly cast send up of Bond-style capers, the film also meticulously points out the steaming pile of double standard b.s. McCarthy has had to deal with during her entire career.

Rose Byrne continues to show real comic flair, and Jason Statham practically kidnaps the film as Agent Rick Ford, a riotous parody of the to-the-extreme tough guy roles that made him famous. But this is McCarthy’s show, and a leading role tailor made for her powerhouse talent. As her Agent Susan Cooper assumes various identities and becomes more confident in her role as a badass, the film lands some sly shots at the sexist barbs often thrown McCarthy’s way. Bravo.

9. La Sapienza
If you like to check your phone or take frequent bathroom breaks at the theater, La Sapienza is not for you. Writer/director Eugene Green makes sure every shot and each line of dialogue is significant in his beautiful meditation on spirituality and love.

A renowned French architect and his wife take a trip to Italy, where they befriend a set of siblings. Many philosophical discussions follow, with Green often making sure each character speaks directly into the camera, demanding that viewers take part.

As Green’s camera lingers on the contours of classic Italian structures, and as man and boy share their architectural philosophies, the roles of teacher and student begin to blur. While one questions the meaning of life and believes in “salvation through work,” the other’s desire is to create spaces with an “emptiness which must be filled with people and light.”

La Sapienza still thinks big questions can have simple answers, and that cinema is still capable of uncovering both truth and beauty.

8. Clouds of Sils Maria
Somewhere between Twilight and the tabloids, Kristen Stewart began doing some real acting. She’s better than ever in Clouds of Sils Maria, and though hers is a supporting role alongside one of the screen’s major talents, Stewart pulls plenty of weight in a terrific drama with much to say.

Juliette Binoche is customarily excellent as Maria, a famous actress returning to the stage in a revival of the play that launched her career twenty years earlier. Stewart is Maria’s ever-present personal assistant Valentine, who not only runs both errands and lines for Maria, but serves as her bridge to a younger generation.

Writer/director Olivier Assayas’s script is sharp and his camera is fluid, effectively blurring the line between onstage and off. The beauty of Clouds of Sils Maria lies in its complexity. It offers subtle insights that sneak up on you, and uses an exceptional cast to make them stick.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L-9rcEhGm4

7. The Nightmare
Idiosyncratic documentarian Rodney Ascher walks a line in his films between open and earnest investigation and metacommentary. His great achievement with this film is not that it transcends the quirky indie doc subgenre, but that it works equally well as an honest piece of nonfiction filmmaking and as a terrifying horror film.

He investigates sleep paralysis, but his weirdly attuned style and his mastery of slow reveal pulls you in to the deeply disturbing case histories long before you really understand what is happening to these poor people. Then, little by little, he makes you realize that, by virtue of watching this film, you may also be at risk. It’s a bit like The Ring, but a real life version.

Any horror film worth its mettle will make you a little nervous about going to sleep. This one will panic you.

6. Girlhood
Moments after Girlhood’s perfectly disconcerting opening, you settle into the world of its protagonist, Marieme, but writer/director Celine Sciamma has already told you something very important. You shouldn’t assume anything.

Few, if any, films have been able to do justice to coming of age the way Sciamma’s does. Girlhood is a character study, following Marieme (Karidja Toure) through her days as an adolescent in a deprived Paris project, struggling against each of her equally unappealing life options.

Sciamma, thanks to a quietly powerful performance from Toure, represents more than just the bittersweet romance and nostalgia generally associated with the coming of age film. Saying goodbye to childhood is rarely as simple and lovely as movies make it out to be, and Sciamma’s interest is in seeing the same transition from an under represented point of view. For Marieme, her choices are limited along racial, sexual and socioeconomic lines, but Sciamma’s perceptive film is too honest and understated to feel preachy.

5. Love and Mercy
Even if you’ve never heard a note of Brian Wilson’s music, one listen to “God Only Knows,” or countless other Beach Boys classics reveals a musical visionary like none other. His success and inner turmoil have both become legend, and director Bill Pohlad utilizes an ambitious script and fine performances to make Wilson’s story resonate with heartbreak and hope.

Paul Dano is flat out fantastic as the younger Wilson. Beyond the considerable physical resemblance, Dano is able to mine multiple layers of wonder, inspiration and doubt, as Wilson struggles to follow his vision in the midst of those who can’t understand it.

Variations on the Brian Wilson story have been attempted before, but Love and Mercy is an original tune that won’t need to be covered for quite some time.

4. It Follows
A perfect blend of new ideas and genre respect, It Follows looks like a John Carpenter film but tells a unique tale. More than the STD of horror movies, it’s a film that channels the best of the genre while using an indie drama sensibility to keep you off guard. Excellent performances and positively inspired camerawork ensure that you care what happens, and are basically terrified from the opening sequence.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell employs an effectively retro score with a voyeuristic camera to keep you on edge, and the impossible to pinpoint time period allows the film to feel both fresh and nostalgic simultaneously. He punctuates the building dread with a handful of jump scares – usually really effective ones – but the film is not reliant upon this gimmick. It’s a unique vision, beautifully written and provocatively executed, that marks a serious new force in filmmaking, genre or otherwise.

3. Inside Out
It’s a tumultuous time in young Riley’s life. Her family has just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, and her emotions are working overtime. Inside her mind, five particular feelings are running the show at Riley “headquarters.” There’s Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Joy is usually able to keep the rest in check (“I’m detecting high levels of sass!”), but when she and Sadness get lost in the outer regions of Riley’s psyche, the race is on to get back to base before the young girl’s personality is forever changed.

So, yes, Pixar returns to the “secret world” theme they know well, but there’s no denying this is a brilliant premise, perfectly executed by a veteran Pixar team. From rides on the “train of thought” to commercial jingles that get stuck in your head to a clever gag about mixing facts and opinions, co- directors/co-writers Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen keep things fresh and funny while maintaining a simple conflict that easily gets younger viewers invested.

And that’s the real beauty of Inside Out. Once again, Pixar examines the changing phases of life with charm, humor and a subtle intelligence that can’t help but give you a fresh appreciation for all the jumbled feelings that make life worth living.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road
After 30 years, George Miller returns to the desolate wasteland that drove poor Max Rockatansky mad. What he delivers with Mad Max: Fury Road is a film so far superior to its three predecessors as to be almost magical. The always magnificent Tom Hardy more than fills the shoes left behind by Mel Gibson, but the star of this film is Charlize Theron as Furiosa – just another cast off looking for redemption. If you can not only outshine but out-badass Tom Hardy, you are one miraculous performer.

Like Miller’s previous Mad Max efforts, this film dusts up some political and environmental gripes, but he’s never been so pointed about his concerns. Not that this will distract you from the utterly kick ass visuals of a film shot using mostly practical effects. How on earth he did some of this is anyone’s guess, but it looks like hell on wheels and leaves you cheering. A flamethrower electric guitar? Hell yeah!

1. Ex Machina
Smart, seductive, and wickedly funny, Ex Machina is the directorial debut from veteran writer Alex Garland, and it instantly marks him as one of the most promising dual threats in film.

Computer wiz Caleb (Domhnall Gleason) gets word that he’s “won” a contest at work. The firm’s founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), has picked Caleb as the lucky one who will get a look inside the reclusive genius’s world and assist on a top secret project.

The ever-versatile Isaac is mesmerizing, crafting Nathan as a walking, talking, drinking God complex in bare feet. Gleason gives Caleb a perfect mix of naïveté and good intentions, while Alicia Vikander is a true wonder as Ava. Living in the space between woman and machine, Vikander pulls it off with nary a hint of caricature.

Sci Fi and horror films have long provided glimpses into a particular generation through the fears and anxieties that manifest on screen. Anchored in science, sex, and creation (sound familiar?), Ex Machina is an insightful, deliciously fun time capsule we need to open right now.





Fright Club: Best Horror 2010 – 2015

It’s official. Our flux capacitor is running out of power, our time travels are coming to a close. We’ve highlighted the best horror films of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and the first decade of the 2000s, and now it’s time to bring things up to the present with the best in horror from 2010 – 2015. Who would have thought that list would be so hard to put together?

What do we wish we didn’t have to leave off? Indies like The Woman, Kill List, The Snowtown Murders; major releases like Evil Dead and The Woman in Black; foreign language gems like Big Bad Wolves, The Last Circus, We Are What We Are and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. All of this convinces us that we are in the midst of a horror movie rennaissance – hooray!

So what did make the cut? Here you go:

5. 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, uses that preexisting knowledge to entertain holy hell out of you.

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.

4. The Conjuring (2013)

Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Wan cut his teeth – and Cary Elwes’s bones – with 2004’s corporeal horror Saw. He’s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.

Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.

But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with his newest effort.

Wan’s expert timing and clear joy when wielding spectral menace help him and his impressive cast overcome the handful of weaknesses in the script by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes. Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re in the theater and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjk2So3KvSQ

3. Let Me In (2010)

With Hollywood’s 2010 reboot of the near-perfect 2008 Swedish film, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.

Twelve year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy who’s being bullied at school. When young Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her “dad” (Richard Jenkins) move in next door, Owen thinks he’s found a friend. As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Owen and Abby grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can.

Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Smit-McPhee (The Road) are both terrific, and give the film a touching, vulnerable soul.

Reeves, also adapting the screenplay, ups the ante on the gore, and provides more action, scares and overall shock value. Incredibly, he even manages to build on the climactic “revenge” scene that was damn-near flawless the first time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8h39ikMdei4

2. The Babadook (2014)

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.

Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

1. It Follows (2015)

David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in years. He’s crafted a coming of age tale that mines for primal terror. Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay discovers that she is cursed. He has passed on some kind of entity – a demonic menace that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes it on to someone else the same way she got it.

Yes, it’s the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted another cautionary tale about premarital sex. Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB podcast.





Fright Club: It Follows and Anticipated Horror of 2015

David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in years.

It Follows is a coming of age tale that mines a primal terror. Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay discovers that she is cursed. He has passed on some kind of entity – a demonic menace that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes it on to someone else the same way she got it.

Yes, it’s the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex.

Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.

What else are we looking forward to this year? Here’s a quick list:

Poltergeist

Crimson Peak

Final Girl

Let Us Prey

Goodnight Mommy