Fright Club: Dogs in Horror

Whether used to terrorize us or to break our hearts, dogs add something powerful to a horror movie. Unless it’s Zoltan: Dog of Dracula, because nothing, not even the most gorgeous dog, could save that piece of poo. But these dogs, these dogs are keepers.

6. The Woman (2011)

Maybe you haven’t seen Lucky McKee’s amazing, disturbing 2011 feminist horror The Woman? Get on it! But just in case, we’re going to avoid any spoilers, which means leaving you kind of wondering why this film made the list of best dogs in horror. Suffice it to say, the dogs are mentioned throughout but meeting them … well, please see this movie.

5. Cujo (1983)

A New England couple, struggling to stay afloat as a family, has some car trouble. This naturally leads to a rabid St. Bernard adventure.

Though the film contains many faults, once Donna (Dee Wallace) and her asthmatic son (pre-Who’s the Boss Danny Pintauro) find themselves trapped in their broken down Pinto (What? Those seem like such reliable cars!) with a rabid dog (bigger than the car) attacking, the film ratchets up the tensions and rewards you for your patience.

Profoundly claustrophobic and surprisingly tense, benefitting immeasurably by Wallace’s full commitment to the role, the film traps us in the heat inside that Pinto and quickly makes up for the entire rest of the picture.

4. The Omen (1976)

Billie F. Whitelaw, ladies and gentlemen. Her performance as little Damien’s new nanny really took things up a notch, didn’t they? Instantly, not only was Mummy (Lee Remick) unnecessary, but Daddy (Gregory Peck) found himself in a battle for Alpha—a battle that begins over a dog.

There are actually quite a number of great, terrifying dogs in The Omen, Richard Donner’s iconic Seventies horror. The dogs in the cemetery, the bones in the casket—what, exactly, was Damien’s mother, anyway? But Mrs. Baylock’s Hound of Hell—that’s when the unflappable Robert Thorn realized there may be things to fear inside his home.

3. I Am Legend (2007)

Yes, there are scary dogs in horror movies, but more often than not horror filmmakers use dogs to break our hearts. Oh, sure, kill all the people you want, but once we hear that off-screen whimper, we’re bawling.

Tell us Sam’s death in I Am Legend didn’t gut you. No? Well, stay away from us you sociopath.

Horror has done us some damage in the way they treat dogs: Jaws, Raw, Snowtown, The Babadook, It Comes at Night, Greta, Audition, The Hills H ave Eyes, The Wailing, Hounds of Love. But we not only loved Sam, we recognized Robert Neville’s (Will Smith) aloneness, his vulnerability to grief and madness, because of Sam. That dog is the only reason this movie works.

2. The Voices (2014)

Director Marjane Satrapi’s follow up to her brilliant animated Persepolis is a sweet, moving, very black comedy about why medicine is not always the best medicine.

Ryan Reynolds is Jerry. As Jerry sees it, his house is a cool pad above a nifty bowling alley, his job is the best, his co-workers really like him, and his positive disposition makes it easy for him to get along. Jerry’s kindly dog Bosco (also Ryan Reynolds) agrees.

But Mr. Whiskers (evil cat, also Reynolds) thinks Jerry is a cold blooded killer. And though Mr. Whiskers is OK with that, Jerry doesn’t want to believe it. So he should definitely not take his pills.

1. The Thing (1982)

Who’s a good boy?!

OK, not the new rescue dog on MacReady’s team. What a gorgeous boy he is, though. A perfect specimen, adaptable to Antarctica’s hostile climate, bred to survive. He makes those beard-tastic humans look positively vulnerable.

Fright Club: Best SciFi Horror

Science Fiction and Horror are cousins—creepy, often slimy cousins. Cousins with pustules, often.

There are so many utterly brilliant options to pick through that our omissions are bound to frustrate and upset, but whether your horror comes from the lab, from space or from the space/time continuum, when you watch these five, your neighbors will hear you scream.

5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Director Dono Siegel was the first filmmaker to bring Jack Finney’s Cold War nightmare to the screen. He wouldn’t be the last, maybe not even the best, but what he did with this eerie alien tale tapped into a societal anxiety and quickly became one of the most influential and terrifying films of its time.

Doc Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is just home from a short trip when he’s inundated by patients swearing their loved ones are not their loved ones at all. Sure, they look the same and have all the same skills and memories, but there’s no warmth, no passion.

With this, the fear that our very nation could be overtaken by an outside force – Russians, say, for terrifyingly immediate sake of argument – working its way through not by force, but by quietly taking over each and every person in one town, then spreading from town to town to town.

It’s the kind of insidious evil that fuels contagion horror, infestation horror, even demonic horror. But Invasion of the Body Snatchers spoke to a society’s deepest fears and became a touchstone for all SciFi to follow it.

4. The Fly (1986)

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

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

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

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

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

3. Timecrimes (2007)

This one is nutty, and absolutely required viewing for anyone with an interest in space/time continuum conundrums.

Writer/director/co-star Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal) mocks our desire for control and our fear of the doppelganger with a very quick and dirty trip through time. So much can go wrong when you travel just one hour backward. The less you know going in, the better.

An always clever experiment in science fiction, horror and irony, Timecrimes is a spare, unique and wild ride.

2. The Thing (1982)

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

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

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

1. Alien (1979)

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

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

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

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





Halloween Countdown, Day 16: The Thing

The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World is both reverent and barrier-breaking, losing a bit of the original’s Cold War dread, but concocting a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination and mutation.

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

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

Rob Bottin’s FX, especially for the time, blew minds. That spider head move – woo-hoo!

The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

The film was an inexplicable bomb with audiences and critics alike when it opened, but it’s gone on to become a must see.

Seriously, you must see it.

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

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





Fright Club: Best Creature Features

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

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

5. The Fly (1986)

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

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

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

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

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

 

4. The Descent (2005)

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

And then we find out there are monsters.

Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.

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

The grislier the film gets, the more primal the tone becomes, eventually taking on a tenor as much like a war movie as a horror film. This is not surprising from the director that unleashed Dog Soldiers – a clever and frightening werewolf adventure. But Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier.

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

3. The Thing (1982)

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

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

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

 

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

 

2. Alien (1979)

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

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

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

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

 

 

1. Jaws (1975)

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

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

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

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

 

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

 





Fright Club: Best Alien Horror Movies

Aliens tend to be very scary. Whether they’re sucking blood from some unsuspecting, love struck plant store employee or leaving crop circles out behind Mel Gibson’s barn, unleashing slugs who share group consciousness or luring us into a fearsome carnival to learn the true meaning of “scary clown,” aliens are tough to trust. Just like Mulder says, and indeed, it was the fresh new look at The X-Files that inspired this week’s count down: the scariest alien movies.

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

5. The Mist (2007)

Frank Darabont really loves him some Stephen King, having adapted and directed the writer’s work almost exclusively for the duration of his career. While The Shawshank Redemption may be Darabont’s most fondly remembered effort, The Mist is an underappreciated creature feature.

David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son head to town for some groceries. Meanwhile, a tear in the space/time continuum opens a doorway to alien monsters. So he, his boy, and a dozen or so other shoppers are all trapped inside this glass-fronted store just waiting for rescue or death.

Marcia Gay Harden is characteristically brilliant as the religious zealot who turns survival inside the store into something less likely than survival out with the monsters, but the whole cast offers surprisingly restrained and emotional turns.

The FX look good, too, and the film itself is best seen in via the black and white version. Regardless, it’s the provocative ending that guarantees this one will sear itself into your memory.

4. Slither (2006)

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

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

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

3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Among the best remakes of all time, Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers creates an oppressive, delirious atmosphere that will not let you go. San Francisco health department workers originally believe some friends are becoming paranoid, sensing a non-existent distance in their loved ones, but soon realize that an alien species is replacing human beings with replicas – exact duplicates, except for the lack of emotion.

The sound and visual effects are especially magnificent when compared to other films of the era, but they age well and give the film a gritty realism that feels unsettling against the fantasy storyline.

The cast is weirdly perfect – the unflappable Donald Sutherland, the naturally emotionless Leonard Nimoy, the effortlessly weird Jeff Goldblum, and Nancy Cartwright, who screams so well when aliens show themselves.

2. The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World is both reverent and barrier-breaking, limiting the original’s Cold War paranoia, and concocting a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination, and mutation.

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

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

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

1. Alien (1979)

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

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

Director Ridley Scott handled the film perfectly, emphasizing the tin can quality of the futuristic vessel. These people are simply not safe – they probably were in danger before bringing the afflicted John Hurt back on board. It’s dark in there, decaying and nasty – just like some moldy old mansion. The trick here is that these people- unlike the inhabitants of a haunted house – truly cannot go anywhere. Where would they go? They’re in space.
Much ado has been made, rightfully so, of the John Hurt Chest Explosion (we loved their early work, before they went commercial). But Scott’s lingering camera leaves unsettling impressions in far simpler ways, starting with the shot of all those eggs.





Fright Club: Not Quite Zombies

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

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

5. Splinter (2008)

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

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

4. Slither (2006)

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

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

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

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

3. The Crazies (1973/2010)

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World is both reverent and barrier-breaking, limiting the original’s Cold War themes, and concocting a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination and mutation.

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

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

1. 28 Days Later (2002)

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

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

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

Listen to the podcast HERE.





Fright Club: Best Eighties Horror

We’re back to the decade countdown, this week looking at the best horror had to offer in the Eighties. This is the decade that spawned more horror franchises and iconic villains than any other – Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead and Hellraiser to begin with. Somewhere in a haze of Aquanet that era also churned out more bad horror than any decade should, but here we will focus on the five best from the Duran Duran Decade.

5. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Director John Landis blends horror, humor, and a little romance with cutting edge (at the time) special effects to tell the tale of a handsome American tourist David (David Naughton) doomed to turn into a Pepper – I mean a werewolf – at the next full moon.

Two college kids (Naughton and Griffin Dunne), riding in the back of a pickup full of sheep, backpacking across the moors, talk about girls and look for a place to duck out of the rain.

Aah, a pub – The Slaughtered Lamb – that’ll do!

The scene in the pub is awesome, as is the scene that follows, where the boys are stalked across the foggy moors. Creepy foreboding leading to real terror, this first act grabs you and the stage is set for a sly and scary escapade. The wolf looks cool, the sound design is fantastically horrifying, and Landis’s brightly subversive humor has never had a better showcase.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uw6QPThCqE

4. Poltergeist (1982)

This aggressive take on the haunted house tale wraps director Tobe Hooper’s potent horrors inside producer Steven Spielberg’s brightly lit suburbia. In both of Spielberg’s ’82 films, the charade of suburban peace is disrupted by a supernatural presence. In E.T., though, there’s less face tearing.

Part of Poltergeist’s success emerged from pairing universal childhood fears – clowns, thunderstorms, that creepy tree – with the adult terror of helplessness in the face of your own child’s peril. JoBeth Williams’s performance of vulnerable optimism gives the film a heartbeat, and the unreasonably adorable Heather O’Rourke creeps us out while tugging our heartstrings.

Splashy effects, excellent casting, Spielberg’s heart and Hooper’s gut combine to create a flick that holds up. Solid performances and the pacing of a blockbuster provide the film a respectable thrill, but Hooper’s disturbing imagination guarantees some lingering jitters.

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

Director John McNaughton’s unforgivingly realistic picture of American serial killer Henry Lee Lucas offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. We follow him through his humdrum days of stalking and then dispatching his prey, until he finds his own unwholesome kind of family in the form of buddy Otis and his sister Becky. What’s diabolically fascinating is the workaday, white trash camaraderie of the psychopath relationship in this film, and the grey areas where one crazy killer feels the other has crossed some line of decency.

McNaughton confuses viewers because the characters you identify with are evil, and even when you think you might be seeing this to understand the origins of the ugliness, he pulls the rug out from under you again by creating an untrustworthy narrative voice. His film is so nonjudgmental, so flatly unemotional, that it’s honestly hard to watch. It’s brilliant nonetheless.

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

2. The Thing (1981)

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World is both reverent and barrier-breaking, limiting the original’s Cold War paranoia, and concocting a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination and mutation.

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside. In an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy. The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists. It’s horror movie magic.

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

1. The Shining (1980)

A study in atmospheric tension, Kubrick’s vision of the Torrance family collapse at the Overlook Hotel is both visually and aurally meticulous. It opens with that stunning helicopter shot, following Jack Torrence’s little yellow Beetle up the mountainside, the ominous score announcing a foreboding that the film never shakes.

Let’s not forget Jack. Nicholson outdoes himself. His veiled contempt early on blossoms into homicidal mania, and there’s something so wonderful about watching Nicholson slowly lose his mind. Between writer’s block, isolation, ghosts, alcohol withdrawal, midlife crisis, and “a momentary loss of muscular coordination,” the playfully sadistic creature lurking inside this husband and father emerges.

What image stays with you most? The two creepy little girls? The blood pouring out of the elevator? The impressive afro in the velvet painting above Scatman Crothers’s bed? That guy in the bear suit – what was going on there? Whatever the answer, thanks be to Kubrick’s deviant yet tidy imagination.

Check out the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.





Fright Club: White Death

We’re buckling under blustery weather and offensive temperatures. We require more degrees! Why not just embrace the White Death? These films certainly do, so snuggle in with a big blanket and look at how much worse you could have it in this wintery weather.

5. Frozen (2010)

No, not the Disney film. In this skiing mishap, three friends hit the slopes one afternoon. They con their way onto the lift for one last run up the hill. But they didn’t really have a ticket to ride, you see, and the guy who let them take that last lift gets called away and asks a less reliable colleague to take over. That colleague has to pee. One thing leads to another. So, three college kids get left on a ski lift. It’s Sunday night, and the resort won’t reopen until Friday. Wolves come out at night. This is a brisk and usually believable flick. Sure, it’s Open Water at a ski resort, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

 

4. 30 Days of Night (2007)

If vampires can only come out at night, wouldn’t it make sense for them to head to the parts of the globe that remain under cover of darkness for weeks on end? Like the Arctic circle? The first potential downfall here is that Josh Hartnett plays our lead, the small town sheriff whose ‘burg goes haywire just after the last flight for a month leaves town. A drifter blows into town. Dogs die viciously. Vehicles are disabled. Power is disrupted. You know what that means…the hunt’s begun. Much of the film’s success is due to the always spectacular Danny Huston as the leader of the bloodsuckers. His whole gang takes a novel, unwholesome approach to the idea of vampire, and it works marvelously.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xAJGjPQpOM

3. Dead Snow (2009)

You had us at “Nazi zombies.” A fun twist on cabin-in-the-woods horror, this film sees a handful of college kids heading into a remote mountain cabin for some winter sport fun and maybe a little lovin’. Dead Snow boasts some of the tongue-in-cheek referential comedy of the outstanding flick Cabin in the Woods, but with a great deal more actual horror. It’s grisly, bloody, hilarious fun. Its 2014 sequel Dead Snow 2: Red Versus Dead is also a very fun choice!

 

2. The Thing (1982)

For our money, this is John Carpenter’s best film – isolated, claustrophobic, beardtastic, and you can get frostbite just watching. A group of Arctic scientists take in a dog, but he’s not a dog at all. And soon, most of the scientists are not scientists, either, but which ones?! The FX still hold up and so does the chilly terror.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoAuJaN78Hk

 

1. The Shining (1980)

Because that’s what could happen if you wander outside right now. You might find yourself lost in a maze, icicles hanging from your eyebrows, your bloody axe frozen to your cold, dead hand. Not that anyone inside is much better off. Enjoy Stanly Kubrick’s masterpiece of family dysfunction, Gatsby-style partying, Big Wheel love and bad carpeting. It’s never a bad time to watch The Shining.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1G7Ju035-8U

Listen to us cover this in more depth and goofiness on our Fright Club podcast!





Countdown: Movies that Know How to Embrace the White Death

We’re buckling under blustery weather and offensive temperatures. I require more degrees! Why not just embrace the White Death? These five films certainly do, so snuggle in with a big blanket and look at how much worse you could have it in this wintery weather.

6. Frozen

No, not the Disney film. In this skiing mishap, three friends hit the slopes one afternoon. They con their way onto the lift for one last run up the hill. But they didn’t really have a ticket to ride, you see, and the guy who let them take that last lift gets called away and asks a less reliable colleague to take over. That colleague has to pee. One thing leads to another. So, three college kids get left on a ski lift. It’s Sunday night, and the resort won’t reopen until Friday. Wolves come out at night. This is a brisk and usually believable flick. Sure, it’s Open Water at a ski resort, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

 

5. 30 Days of Night

If vampires can only come out at night, wouldn’t it make sense for them to head to the parts of the globe that remain under cover of darkness for weeks on end? Like the Arctic circle? The first potential downfall here is that Josh Hartnett plays our lead, the small town sheriff whose ‘burg goes haywire just after the last flight for a month leaves town. A drifter blows into town. Dogs die viciously. Vehicles are disabled. Power is disrupted. You know what that means…the hunt’s begun. Much of the film’s his success is due to the always spectacular Danny Huston as the leader of the bloodsuckers. His whole gang takes a novel, unwholesome approach to the idea of vampire, and it works marvelously.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xAJGjPQpOM

 

4. Let the Right One In

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either the 2008 Swedish original or its 2010 American reboot Let Me In. We’re leaning toward the original here only because director Tomas Alfredson made such effective use of the Swedish winter. Young social misfit befriends the mysterious new girl in his apartment complex. A sweet yet bloody romance blossoms. Whether you choose the original or the remake, a brilliantly told, often genuinely scary vampire flick emerges.

 

3. Dead Snow

You had us at “Nazi zombies.” A fun twist on cabin-in-the-woods horror, this film sees a handful of college kids heading into a remote mountain cabin for some winter sport fun and maybe a little lovin’. Dead Snow boasts some of the tongue-in-cheek referential comedy of the outstanding flick Cabin in the Woods, but with a great deal more actual horror. It’s grisly, bloody, hilarious fun.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJkd5X2aG34

 

2. The Thing

For our money, this is John Carpenter’s best film – isolated, claustrophobic, beardtastic, and you can get frostbite just watching. A group of Arctic scientists take in a dog, but he’s not a dog at all. And soon, most of the scientists are not scientists, either, but which ones?! The FX still hold up and so does the chilly terror.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoAuJaN78Hk

 

1. The Shining

Because that’s what could happen if you wander outside right now. You might find yourself lost in a maze, icicles hanging from your eyebrows, your bloody axe frozen to your cold, dead hand. Not that anyone inside is much better off. Enjoy Stanly Kubrick’s masterpiece of family dysfunction, Gatsby-style partying, Big Wheel love and bad carpeting. It’s never a bad time to watch The Shining.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1G7Ju035-8U





A Scary Movie a Day for October! Day 15: The Thing

The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World is both reverent and barrier-breaking, losing a bit of the original’s Cold War dread, but concocting a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination and mutation.

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

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

Rob Bottin’s FX, especially for the time, blew minds. That spider head move – woo-hoo!

The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

The film was an inexplicable bomb with audiences and critics alike when it opened, but it’s gone on to become a must see.

Seriously, you must see it.

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