Fright Club: Horror Movies from the Mind of the Madman

You can’t predict what’s going on in the mind of a crazy person. Because, you know, they’re crazy. Logic and reason are not necessarily the pillars they’re using to construct their own reality. So why not just let them tell us? We don’t recommend this as an in-person exercise, but as a movie, it really works out. Here are the 5 best movies from the mind of a madman.

5. Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (2015)

Adrian is a Romanian filmmaker who likes girls and cats. He does not like dogs or boys. His favorite thing? Anne Hathaway as Cat Woman.

He was so inspired by her performance that he knew he had to make a film with her. To convince her, he’s lured three actresses to shoot a film with him. That film is really just to convince Anne, his beloved, that she should star in the real movie.

I really don’t think she will want to.

This movie works on the sheer, weird charisma of writer/director/star Adrian Tofei. He is pathetic and charming and terrifying as he documents his direction as a kind of “behind the scenes” for Anne, so she can understand how truly perfect she is for his film and he is for her artistic future. The result is unsettling, unique and wildly entertaining.

4. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Director Robert Weine’s inarguable classic remains a cinematic landmark because of its look and its political storytelling. It’s a genre breakthrough for those reasons, as well as one twist that would still be a go-to for the genre nearly a century later.

The film is a story spun by a young man on a park bench. He’s visiting his sweetheart in an insane asylum, and he tells us of their woes. It’s a captivating story, one that speak to writers Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz’s building worries over authoritarianism in Post WWI Germany, and in the hands of Weine, the imagery takes on a nightmarish aesthetic many would try to imitate.

Alas, as the film ends, we find that our narrator is, indeed, just another patient in this sanitarium and the story has simply come from his own diseased mind.

3. The Last Horror Movie (2003)

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

There’s a lot of “yes, I’m a bad person, but aren’t you, too” posturing going on, and while it is an idea to chew on, it nearly outlives its welcome by the time Max applies his theory to concrete action. It’s an idea explored masterfully by Michael Haneke in 1997 (and again, ten years later) with Funny Games, and by comparison, The Last Horror Movie feels a bit superficial. (Not a huge criticism – few could withstand a comparison to Michael Haneke.)

But director Julian Richards deserves immense credit for subverting expectations throughout the film. Just when we assume we’re seeing a predator anticipating the pounce – just when we’re perhaps feeling eager to see someone victimized – the film makes a hard right turn. In doing this, Richards not only manages to keep the entire film feeling fresh and unpredictable, but he enlightens us to the ugliness of our own horror movie fascinations.

2. Man Bites Dog (1992)

In a bit of meta-filmmaking, Man Bites Dog is a pseudo-documentary made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. It is about a documentary being made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. The subject of the fictional documentary is the charismatic Ben – serial killer, narcissist, poet, racist, architecture enthusiast, misogynist, bird lover.

There’s more than what appears on the surface of this cynical, black comedy. The film crew starts out as dispassionate observers of Ben’s crimes. They’re just documenting, just telling the truth. No doubt this is a morally questionable practice to begin with. But they are not villains – they are serving their higher purpose: film.

The film examines social responsibility as much as it does journalistic objectivity, and what Man Bites Dog has to say about both is biting. It’s never preachy, though.

Theirs is a bitter view of their chosen industry, and – much like The Last Horror Movie – a bit of a condemnation of the viewer as well. The fact that much of the decidedly grisly content is played for laughter makes it that much more unsettling.

1. American Psycho (2000)

Director Mary Harron trimmed Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, giving it unerring focus. More importantly, the film soars due to Christian Bale’s utterly astonishing performance as narcissist, psychopath, and Huey Lewis fan Patrick Bateman.

Bateman narrates for us his strategies for keeping up the ruse of humanity for all who’s looking. He feels the pressure and believes an end to the charade is imminent.

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

Fright Club: Murderous Mentors

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

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

5. Addiction (1995)

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

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

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

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

4. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

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

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

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

3. The Last Horror Movie (2003)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry offers an unforgivingly realistic portrayal of evil. Michael Rooker is brilliant as serial killer Henry (based on real-life murderer Henry Lee Lucas). We follow him through his humdrum days of stalking and then dispatching his prey, until he finds his own unwholesome kind of family in the form of buddy Otis and his sister, Becky.

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

What’s diabolically fascinating is the workaday, white trash camaraderie of the psychopath relationship in this film, and the grey areas where one crazy killer feels the other has crossed some line of decency.

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

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

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

Fright Club: Best Horror Movies About Horror Movies

From Truffaut’s Day for Night to Burton’s Ed Wood and countless others, films frequently take the setting of filmmaking as their playground. For horror, the meta-possibilities seem endless. What if a serial killer hired a documentary crew to capture him as he lived the tropes of the slasher? I give you Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Or what if a horror veteran reinvigorated a dying genre by creating a horror film where life imitated art – a serial killer struck a small town using all the slasher cliches in his arsenal – just as a horror film was being released about that town? Oh Wes Craven, you genius.

The options are numerous, but today we focus on those films that use filmmaking as a backdrop to explore both horror and filmmaking, all the while entertaining and horrifying us all.

5. Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Mild mannered – even for a Brit – sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones – perfect) flies to Italy to do the sound for a documentary about horses. But The Equestrian Vortex is, in fact, a gaillo horror film about torturing women – not that director Santini (Antonio Mancino) will admit that.

Gilderoy is bullied and misused, returning to his quiet room at night to miss his mum and work on some sound effects. As the harassment in the studio spills beyond his own bullying to something more sinister with one of the female voiceover talent, and the sounds and images he’s forced to work with become more and more brutal, Gilderoy begins to see the world differently.

This is a surreal look into the splintered imagination of a delicate man pushed into something ugly. It’s also a very slow but effective, absorbing meditation on horror.

4. The Editor (2014)

Adam Brooks plays Rey Cisco, the editor of gaillo films who finds himself at the center of a murder mystery resembling the very films he helps to create. Adam Brooks is also the editor of the film The Editor, a gaillo film about an editor caught inside a gaillo-film-like mystery.

Oh so meta!

If you do not know Italian horror well, this may feel like a slapstick piece of nonsense. But if you do know this very nichy genre, man, do Brooks and his co-writer/director Matthew Kennedy know what they are doing.

The reason the send up is so funny is not just because it’s very loving, but because an unreasonably popular line of films behaves exactly like this one. It’s just that this one knows it’s funny.

3. The Last Horror Movie (2003)

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

There’s a lot of “yes, I’m a bad person, but aren’t you, too” posturing going on, and while it is an idea to chew on, it nearly outlives its welcome by the time Max applies his theory to concrete action. It’s an idea explored masterfully by Michael Haneke in 1997 (and again, ten years later) with Funny Games, and by comparison, The Last Horror Movie feels a bit superficial. (Not a huge criticism – few could withstand a comparison to Michael Haneke.)

But director Julian Richards deserves immense credit for subverting expectations throughout the film. Just when we assume we’re seeing a predator anticipating the pounce – just when we’re perhaps feeling eager to see someone victimized – the film makes a hard right turn. In doing this, Richards not only manages to keep the entire film feeling fresh and unpredictable, but he enlightens us to the ugliness of our own horror movie fascinations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McCUO5tQ5gk

2. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

E. Elias Merhige revisits F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece Nosferatu with smashing results in Shadow of the Vampire. Wickedly funny and just a little catty, ‘Shadow’ entertains with every frame.
This is the fictional tale of the filming of Nosferatu. Egomaniacal artists and vain actors come together to create Murnau’s groundbreaking achievement in nightmarish authenticity. As they make the movie, they discover the obvious: the actor playing Count Orlok, Max Schreck is, in fact, a vampire.

The film is ingenious in the way it’s developed: murder among a pack of paranoid, insecure backstabbers; the mad artistic genius Murnau directing all the while. And it would have been only clever were it not for Willem Dafoe’s perversely brilliant performance as Schreck. There is a goofiness about his Schreck that gives the otherwise deeply horrible character an oddly endearing quality.

Eddie Izzard doesn’t get the credit he deserves, reenacting the wildly upbeat performance of Gustav von Wagenheim so well. The always welcome weirdness of Udo Kier balances the egomaniacal zeal John Malkovich brings to the Murnau character, and together they tease both the idea of method acting and the dangerous choice of completely trusting a director.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAn5uLNMmjk&t=10s

1. Man Bites Dog (1992)

In another bit of meta-filmmaking, Man Bites Dog is a pseudo-documentary made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. It is about a documentary being made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. The subject of the fictional documentary is the charismatic Ben – serial killer, narcissist, poet, racist, architecture enthusiast, misogynist, bird lover.

There’s more than what appears on the surface of this cynical, black comedy. The film crew starts out as dispassionate observers of Ben’s crimes. They’re just documenting, just telling the truth. No doubt this is a morally questionable practice to begin with. But they are not villains – they are serving their higher purpose: film.

At first.

Benoit Poelvoorde’s (who also co-directs) performance as Ben is just as quirky, ridiculous and self-centered as it can be. He’s perfect. His character needs to move the group toward fear, camaraderie, and sometimes even pity – but slyly, he also moves the audience.

The film examines social responsibility as much as it does journalistic objectivity, and what Man Bites Dog has to say about both is biting.

Fright Club: Best Found Footage Horror Movies

It is the most tired and tiresome of all horror film gimmicks, but are there worthwhile found footage movies to be celebrated? Or are they all simply the result of an inexpensive narrative device that allows for sloppy filmmaking and weak production values? Well, we did the research and found that there are many worthwhile offerings in this field. Yes, the bad outnumber the good 10 – 1, but there are good ones. Here are our five (OK – 6!) favorites.

Listen to the whole podcast HERE.

6. Trollhunter (2010)

All ancient cultures generated fairy tales. They passed on stories that wrapped the virtues most respected at the time inside common dangers to tell tales of heroism and humor. Norway’s fairy tales all involve trolls. Indeed, their entire national culture seems weirdly identified with trolls. Why is that? Well, writer/director Andre Ovredal’s Trollhunter suggests that maybe it’s because trolls are a real problem up there.

Ovredal’s approach is wry and silly – adjectives that rarely hang out together, but maybe we haven’t seen enough of Norway’s cinematic output. The FX are sometimes wonderful, and especially effective given the otherwise verite, documentary style. Ovredal makes droll use of both approaches.

Trollhunter is definitely more comedy than horror, as at no time does the film actually seek to scare you. It’s a wild ride into a foreign culture, though, and it makes you think twice about the Norway section of Epcot, I’ll tell you what.

5. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paranormal Activity, or The Little Ghost Story That Could, opened on a handful of screens in just a few cities around the country for midnight weekend shows only. All screenings promptly sold out. Powerful word-of-mouth and an aggressive marketing campaign propelled the modest flick into multiplexes worldwide. Why the hubbub? Well, for those patient enough to let it seep in – for those who do not require a jump, a slash, or a violent act in every fifth frame – Paranormal Activity is an effective, creepy little production.

A classic ghost story, the film evolves Blair Witch-style, as a couple pestered by something spectral begin cataloguing incidents with a night vision camera. The entire film consists solely of the video footage, tracking about three weeks’ worth of rising tension, most of it captured in the couple’s bedroom while they sleep.

The couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) is annoyingly believable in their pensions for doing the wrong thing simply to cater to each other’s insecurities. This, and the simplicity in the filmmaking – limited effects, incredibly limited cast and sets, minimal backstory – create an unnerving air of authenticity. The cam-corder timestamp rolls quickly forward, providing shorthand imaging of the couple sleeping, then slows to real time tracking just as something is about to happen. This repetitive gimmick proves so succinct and effective that dread begins to build while still fast forwarding. By the time the clock slows, half the audience is holding its breath.

4. The Last Horror Movie (2003)

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

There’s a lot of “yes, I’m a bad person, but aren’t you, too” posturing going on, and while it is an idea to chew on, it nearly outlives its welcome by the time Max applies his theory to concrete action. It’s an idea explored masterfully by Michael Haneke in 1997 (and again, ten years later) with Funny Games, and by comparison, The Last Horror Movie feels a bit superficial. (Not a huge criticism – few could withstand a comparison to Michael Haneke.)

But director Julian Richards deserves immense credit for subverting expectations throughout the film. Just when we assume we’re seeing a predator anticipating the pounce – just when we’re perhaps feeling eager to see someone victimized – the film makes a hard right turn. In doing this, Richards not only manages to keep the entire film feeling fresh and unpredictable, but he enlightens us to the ugliness of our own horror movie fascinations.

3. Man Bites Dog (1992)

Oh, Belgium. How we do love your horror output. In a bit of meta-filmmaking, Man Bites Dog is a pseudo-documentary made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. It is about a documentary being made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. The subject of the documentary is the charismatic Ben – serial killer, narcissist, poet, racist, architecture enthusiast, misogynist, bird lover.

There’s more than what appears on the surface of this cynical, black comedy. The film crew starts out as dispassionate observers of Ben’s crimes – which is certainly morally questionable to begin with. Eventually their commitment to the project, fear of retaliation, bloodlust, or sense of camaraderie pushes them toward aiding Ben, and then finally, to committing heinous crimes themselves.

It’s a bitter view of their chosen industry, and – much like The Last Horror Movie – a bit of a condemnation of the viewer as well. The fact that much of the decidedly grisly content is played for laughter makes it that much more unsettling.

2. [REC] (2007)

[Rec] shares one cameraman’s footage of the night he and a reporter tagged along with a local fire department. The small news crew and two firefighters respond to a call from an urban apartment building. An elderly woman, locked inside her flat, has been screaming. Two officers are already on the scene. Bad, bad things will happen.

Just about the time the first responders realize they’re screwed, the building is completely sealed off from the outside by government forces. Power to the building is cut, leaving everyone without cell reception, cable, and finally, light. Suddenly we’re trapped inside the building with about fifteen people, some of them ill, some of them bleeding, some of them biting.

Filmmakers Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza make excellent use of their found footage approach, first by way of the news report, then because of the need to use the camera to see once power’s been cut. They play the claustrophobic nature of the quarantine to excellent effect, creating a kind of funhouse of horror that refuses to let you relax. The American reboot Quarantine is another excellent choice, but our vote has to go with the original.

1. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

BW is, of course, the now famous instigator of the found footage movement. Yes, Cannibal Holocaust was the first film to use the found footage conceit, but a) it sucked, and b) it didn’t show the audience this footage exclusively. Cannibal Holocaust built a narrative around the film canisters, and then looked at them. One of several truly genius ideas behind Blair Witch is that the filmmakers made the audience believe that the film they were watching was nothing more than the unearthed footage left behind by three disappeared young people.

Between the novelty of the found footage approach and the also novel use of viral marketing, the film drew a huge audience of people who believed they were seeing a snuff film. Nice.

And those two cutting edge techniques buoyed this minimalistic, naturalistic home movie about three bickering buddies who venture into the Maryland woods to document the urban legend of The Blair Witch. Twig dolls, late night noises, jumpy cameras, unknown actors, and not much else blended into an honestly frightening flick that played upon primal fears.