Tag Archives: The Haunting

Fright Club: Mainstream Directors Making Horror

Exciting all MaddWolf Pack episode! Daniel Baldwin, aka The Schlocketeer, and Brandon Thomas join us to talk about a topic we stole from their Twitter conversation: which directors not known for horror made the best horror movies?

Be sure to listen because Daniel and Brandon both bring much knowledge (plus extra movie titles!) to the conversation. But here’s our Top 5:

5. Nosferatu, the Vampire (1979, Werner Herzog)

Sure, it’s another Dracula, but because it’s another Dracula by way of Murnau’s masterpiece Nosferatu, and it’s written and directed by the great Werner Herzog, it’s weird and wonderful.

Herzog uses the imagery Murnau created – in particular, the naked mole rat of a vampire – to turn vampirism into a pestilence to evoke the Black Plague of Europe. Klaus Kinski is that naked mole rat, and he is glorious.

Isabelle Adjani is the pure of heart maiden who is his undoing, but the way Herzog reimagines Jonathan Harker gives the film a cynical twist that feels like a surprise within this dreamlike adaptation. Gorgeous location shooting and an astonishing score help Herzog create a suffocating but captivating atmosphere.

4. The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise)

Coming off the big epics of The Sound of Music and West Side Story, no one would have expected the intimate psychological horror of Robert Wise’s The Haunting.

Shirley Jackson fans have to appreciate the way the film remains true to her vision of horror. Fans of horror have to appreciate Wise’s unbelievable knack for generating terror with sound design and imagination.

Yes, the performances are magnificent – especially Julie Harris, whose bitter Eleanor is picture perfect. But Wise’s mastery of form is what makes this G-rated film a lasting terror.

3. Hour of the Wolf (1968, Ingmar Bergman)

Like all Bergman films, this hypnotic, surreal effort straddles lines of reality and unreality and aches with existential dread. But Bergman and his star, Max von Sydow, cross over into territory of the hallucinatory and grotesque, calling to mind ideas of vampires, insanity and bloodlust as one man confronts repressed desires as he awaits the birth of his child.

As wonderful as von Sydow is as the central figure, a man spiraling toward insanity, it’s the heartbreaking Liv Ullman who owns this movie. Heartbreaking, solid, and the most unusual combination of strength and weakness, her Alma grounds the surreal elements of the movie.

The result is gorgeous, spooky, and so very sad. It’s one of the most underappreciated films of Bergman’s career.

2. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

You know who you probably shouldn’t hire to look after your hotel?
Jack Nicholson.

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

The hypnotic, innocent sound of Danny Torrance’s Big Wheel against the weirdly phallic patterns of the hotel carpet tells so much – about the size of the place, about the monotony of the existence, about hidden perversity. The sound is so lulling that its abrupt ceasing becomes a signal of spookiness afoot.

Nicholson outdoes himself. His early, veiled contempt blossoms into pure 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.

He’s not the caretaker management expected, but really, was Grady? Like Grady and Lloyd the bartender, Jack Torrance is a fixture here at the Overlook.

1. Silence of the lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)

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.

Demme makes sure it’s Lecter that gets under our skin in the way he creates a parallel between Lecter and FBI investigator 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.

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: Lesbians in Horror Movies

Lesbians in horror have come a long way since Jesus DeFranco’s bloodthirsty nymphettes. In fact, we are now at the glorious point in history in which story leads can be lesbians for no particular reason—their sexual orientation not a metaphor for anything at all. They’re just characters. Nice!

There are so many great options that we had to leave many off. What were we looking for? Main characters whose sexuality is not showcased simply for titillation or as a twisted mark of the sinister. That doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned the villain, but if you’re looking for hot girl-on-girl action, well, yes, we have a bit of that, too, but who wouldn’t make out with Catherine Deneuve?

5. The Hunger (1983)

Director Tony Scott’s seductive vampire love story has a little bit of everything: slaughter, girl-on-girl action, ’80s synth/goth tunage, David Bowie. What more can you ask?

Actually the film’s kind of a sultry, dreamily erotic mess. Oh, the gauzy curtains. Catharine Deneuve is the old world vampire Miriam Blaylock—an inarguably awesome name for a vampire. David Bowie is her lover. But he suddenly begins aging, and she needs to find a replacement. Enter Susan Sarandon and her mullet as a medical specialist in unusual blood diseases and a fine actress who’s not above smooching other girls.

There are three reasons people will always watch this film: Bowie, Catherine Deneuve’s seduction of Susan Sarandon (classy!), and the great dark-wave Bauhaus number Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Together it’s a Goth Trifecta! And Goths do love them some vampires.

4. Thelma (2017)

We follow Thelma (Eili Harboe) through the uncomfortable, lonely first weeks of college we gather that her parents are very Christian and very protective.

Things could have gone all predictable and preachy from there, but co-writer/director Joachim Trier knows what you’re thinking and he plans to use it against you.

Thelma is a coming-of-age film at its cold, dark heart. The horror here lies in the destructive nature of trying to be something you are not, but here again, nothing in Thelma is as simple or cleanly cut as the beautiful framing and crystal clear camera work suggest.

Like Julia Ducournau’s magnificent coming-of-age horror Raw, Thelma dives into the issues swirling around post-adolescent freedoms and taboos in daring and insightful ways.

Thelma takes its time and lets its lead unveil a fully realized, deeply complex character full of contradictions—inconsistencies that make more sense as the mystery unravels. Though the result never terrifies, it offers an unsettling vision of self-discovery that’s simultaneously familiar and unique.

3. The Haunting (1963)

This may not seem like an obvious choice, but Theo (Claire Bloom) is a lesbian. And a great, badass character at that. That may not have been a widely held opinion when the great Shirley Jackson penned the novel in the fifties, or when the great Robert Wise directed the spooky and wonderful adaptation in 1963. But Mike Flanagan, director of the Netflix series based on the book, understood Jackson’s nuance and Wise’s subtlety and decided Theo would be out and proud. Good on ya, Flanagan.

In Wise’s original work, there is no overt mention of Theo’s sexuality, but there wouldn’t be, would there? It was 1963. Theodora is unmarried but refers to an “us” when discussing her home life. Her style, her confidence, her disinterest in being demure with the males, and the fact that Eleanor refers to her as “unnatural” all quietly make the case for us.

What’s great, though, is not just that a lead character is a lesbian, but that she’s a powerful and positive presence, and that she and Eleanor form a deep and supportive friendship. The Haunting (and Jackson’s magnificent novel) is about identity, and the fact that Theo is so very comfortable with hers is what makes this film an important addition to the list.

2. The Handmaiden (2016)

Director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) mesmerizes again with this seductive story of a plot to defraud a Japanese heiress in the 1930s.

Weird is an excellent word to describe this film. Gorgeous and twisty with criss-crossing loyalties and deceptions, all filmed with such stunning elegance. Set in Korea, the film follows a young domestic in a sumptuous Japanese household. She’s to look after the beautiful heiress, a woman whose uncle is as perverse and creepy as he is wealthy.

Smart and wicked, stylish and full of wonderful twists, The Handmaiden is a masterwork of delicious indulgence.

1. Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Seduction, homoeroticism, drowsy lustfulness – this one has it all.

Countess Bathory—history’s female version of Dracula—checks into an all-but-abandoned seaside hotel. The only other guests, besides the Countess’s lover, Ilona (Andrea Rau), is a honeymooning couple.

Effortlessly aristocratic, Delphine Seyrig brings a tender coyness, a sadness to the infamous role of Bathory. Seyrig’s performance lends the villain a tragic loveliness that makes her the most endearing figure in the film. Everybody else feels mildly unpleasant, a sinister bunch who seem to be hiding things. The husband (John Karlen), in particular, is a suspicious figure, and a bit peculiar. Kind of a dick, really— and Bathory, for one, has no time for dicks.

Caring less for the victims than for the predator—not because she’s innocent or good, but because her weary elegance makes her seem vulnerable—gives the film a nice added dimension.

The accents are absurd. The outfits are glorious. The performances are compellingly, perversely good, and the shots are gorgeous. Indulge yourself.


Fright Club: See the Original, Not the Remake

Horror movie remakes are legion – most of them needless, many of them abominations, one or two really work out well. The Ring – that’s a great one. Let Me In – OK, we will! But today, rather than crucify the sub-par remakes, what we really want to do is to remind you of the bloody good original you may have missed, or maybe saw years back and need to check out again. Here is our list of horror movies where you should skip the remake and seek out the original.

5. Diabolique (1955 v 1996

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s twisty psychological thriller with horror-ific undertones is crafty, spooky, jumpy and wonderful. Jeremiah Chechik’s 1996 remake capitalizes on the popularity of a post-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone and the moviegoing public’s spotty memory. If a film relies on a twist ending to work, why remake that film? You have to ask whether the film still works if the ending is apparent all the while. In all honesty, with the atmosphere of brittle dread Clouzot created, the answer could well be yes – although that bathtub scene is far scarier when you don’t know it’s coming. But Chechik – whose National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation hardly suggested he had instinct for tense, potentially supernatural horror – was not up to the task. Flat. Uninspired. Spook-less. Boo.

4. The Wicker Man (1973 v 2006)

Oh my God. What the hell?! The once-promising Neil LaBute and the once-talented Nic Cage turn that saucily blasphemous ’73 gem on Summerisle into an embarrassing battle of the sexes. In the early Seventies, Robin Hardy created a film that fed on the period’s hippie versus straight hysteria, and he did it with insight, humor, and super creepy animal masks. LaBute, characteristically, turns that primary conflict into male versus female, sucking all the irreverent humor from the story as he does. And he pulls his punch with the ending – so what on earth is the purpose of this?!!!

3. The Haunting (1963 v 1999)

Well, here’s another one that just pisses us off. In ’63, Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music – yeah, that one) took Shirley Jackson’s beloved haunted house novel to the big screen. True to the source material, The Haunting relied so entirely upon your own imagination that it garnered a G rating and still scared hell out of you. In 1999, Jan de Bont abandoned nuance entirely, embraced vulgar displays of literalism and wasted a cast that was actually perfect for each role. In somebody else’s adaptation, Catherine Zeta-Jones would have made the perfect Theo and Owen Wilson a delightful Luke, but the achingly missed opportunity is Lily Taylor. There is no better option to play Jackson’s repressed heroine Nell – Taylor couldn’t be a more perfect choice – and a blind de Bont understood his talent even less well than he understood Jackson’s novel.

2. Oldboy (2003 v 2013)

No surprise here. We honestly feel a bit bruised for poor Spike Lee, who endured so much Hollywood interference with his reboot of Chan-wook Park’s near-perfect Korean original that a decent product was out of the question. And yet, this abomination was released on an unsuspecting – or worse, optimistic – movie going world. And it sucked! Just sucked outright!! Gone were all the glorious bits of subversive genius, every punch pulled, every shock diluted. Park’s dizzying action sequences – ditched. And this seriously badass cast – Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel Jackson – wasted, while Sharlto Copley embarrasses himself. Awful!

1. Martyrs (2008 v 2015)

Pascal Laugier’s diabolical masterpiece Martyrs is a merciless film. It’s also one of the most impeccably written, directed and acted films in horror history. Co-directors and brothers Kevin and Michael Goetz underperform with their 2015 remake – pulled punches, heavy handed explanations, and a general lack of spine mark their work. The questions here resemble the same conundrum of remaking Oldboy – if you lack the guts to do the film justice, why do it at all? Why choose such a bold effort if your whole goal is to water it down?