Friday, October 31, 2014

My Top 5 Horrors From the Deep Movies

Ever since we first took our steps out of the water, we immediately looked back over our shoulder and wondered what that splashing sound was. I was a member of the Jaws generation, one of the more influential horror films in modern cinema. Not just in terms of resetting and expanding what actually scares us by making use of the water as the metaphor for The Great Unknown, but also in managing to keep me out of swimming in a lake until I was a teenager. Even then, I stayed in motion constantly, kicking my feet as if my life depended on it—which it undoubtedly did.

What about the water is so terrifying to us? Is it the idea that it can instantly kill us? The fact that it slows us down and provides a hazard for us that the predators can cheerfully ignore? Personally, I think there’s something primal, if not primeval, about what lives in the crushing depths. We know we don’t belong in the water any more, and they do. It’s their domain, and we’re just trying to survive—badly.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Killer Doll Movies

One of the reasons why the clown scene in Poltergeist scares the hell out of us is that we’ve all had that experience at least once in our lives, usually with a favored toy or an artfully-thrown jacket and baseball cap, or something similar. In this case, the clown doll does double duty for being both (A) a doll, and (B) a clown that is disturbing even in the light of day. Our fascination with totems and effigies that move when we’re not looking, whether it’s Pixar’s Toy Story movies or the venerable and not-very-good Dollman franchise from Full Moon Entertainment, is actually a place holder for a lot of things: the Pinocchio story, the Frankenstein/Prometheus tale (gone wrong, of course), the betrayal from something innocent from our childhood, or just a plain ol’ stand-in for a loss of control from things beyond our ken. Pick one, or pick several. It doesn’t matter. It all adds up to one thing: sheer terror.

This is one of the few things that really scares me. There’s nothing worse than a creepy-looking doll suddenly turn its head to look Right. At. You. Just thinking about some of the movies on this list gives me the heebie-jeebies. As a life-long collector of action figures, there’s a niggling thought at the back of my head that they talk about me all judgey and stuff when I’m not in the room. Not that I don’t think I could defend myself from a pack of 3 ¾” action figures, but still...

Monday, October 27, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Horror Anthology Movies

I’ve always loved reading horror anthologies, and for one simple reason: more bang for your buck. There’s something wonderful about a short story, well-written, that scares the beejeezus out of you. It’s a particularly good literary magic trick to pull off. Sure, you’re going to run into the occasional story that doesn’t do it for you for one reason or another, but that’s okay; there’s another story right after it, and chances are, it’ll be better.

Horror anthology movies are fairly uncommon, and I guess it’s because of the expense. I mean, you’ve got to set up three different production crews, and much like a literary excursion, not all of the segments are going to inspire thrills and chills. Usually. There are some exceptions, and many of them have made the list below. In thinking about this category, I ranked each segment by how scary/creepy/effective it was, and then averaged the scores together to get a single ranking.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite TV Horror Shows

For horror and sci-fi fans growing up in the 1980s, TV was the best place for a quick fix if you were looking for something ghoulish and ghastly to watch. In addition to Twilight Zone reruns (always on somewhere) and later, The Outer Limits, there were several syndicated shows that promised at least an entertaining story, if not a scary one. Now in the age of dvds and streaming content, you can get what you want when you want...well, mostly. There are a number of shows, smaller, more obscure, that have yet to find their way to a blu-ray near you.

It’s hard to talk about horror anthologies on television without mentioning The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). As a fledgling effort, The Twilight Zone is lionized, and perhaps a little too slavishly, for its innovative approach and subject matter. Keep in mind, however, that for every instance of, say, Richard Matheson writing “Nightmare at 10,000 Feet” there was an episode that was a gentle or whimsical fantasy with no horror or terror or freakout by William Shatner in it. A lot of the stories were informed by the politics of the Cold War, and some were outright science fiction think pieces. None of this is a criticism, mind you. It’s just to say that while the show was overall a hit, not every episode of The Twilight Zone was a home run.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Dracula Movies

There’s a big difference between Dracula movies and vampire movies. Dracula is always a vampire, but not every vampire is Dracula. That’s a bit of an understatement. Ever since Nosferatu was made in the silent era, people have been perennially fascinated with bringing Bram Stoker’s historic and histrionic novel to cinematic life, with wildly varying results.

The story is now a part of the larger pop culture zeitgeist. Jonathan Harker, Mina, his fiancĂ©e, Quincy the Texan, and Van Helsing are the original monster hunters and their exploits are not unfamiliar to us, thanks to movies, TV, comics, radio, stage plays, and of course, the novel itself. Written in the form of epistolary correspondence from person to person, the novel is accused of being overly romantic, and is most famously analyzed as Stoker’s reaction to the influx of immigrants to Great Britain at the time and a cautionary tale of the dangers of these dark, mysterious, swarthy men ravaging the fair maidens of England.

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Lovecraftian Movies

When I was a teenager, I read my fill of H.P. Lovecraft, the man responsible for the Cthulhu Mythos and the current dust-up about the World Fantasy Award statue. Widely considered unfilmable for literally decades, we’ve only recently begun to see his weird and uniquely bleak visions translated into cinematic fever dreams.

To be completely fair, Lovecraftian cinema has been in effect since the 1960’s; it’s just not been done very well. Compromises were made in nearly every movie bearing Lovecraft’s name, some of them so egregious that it makes one wonder why they even bothered in the first place.

I think the best movies that encapsulate Lovcraft’s themes, tropes, and ideas tend to be the original movies made with a Lovecraftian sensibility; this notion that the more you know about the things just outside our consciousness, the more insane it makes you. This is an effective horror motif, and done correctly, like many of the movies below, it’s some of the most effective scares in book or movie form.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Haunted House movies

Is there anything more clichĂ©’? More hoary and hackneyed? More played out? The Haunted House “trope” has been beaten to death, thanks to Scooby Doo, ABC After School Specials, and a ton of pop cultural appropriations. Along with the ghosts who frequently accompany them, no other supernatural occurrence has been so abused and ridiculed as the Haunted House.

And yet, some of the best horror movies ever made are haunted house movies. Some of the most terrifying films of all are about something being left behind, or being “not quite right” about the cornerstone of our notions of safety and security. Houses—our homes—are our defense against the forces of darkness that stop at our threshold. When our own walls revolt and offer us no protection, what hope do we have? That’s where the best haunted house movies get us: right where we live.