“The Prodigy” horror movie review

The Omen meets Child’s Play. When the trailer first dropped for The Prodigy, I was intrigued. Didn’t think that it was going to be great, but I was anticipating it as one of the horror movies I was looking forward to most in 2019, with others being Pet SemataryUsMidsommar, and IT: Chapter 2. Then I began to read the reviews of the movie, and was disappointed in what was being said. Since I wanted to get the oil changed in my car yesterday, with it being a weekday holiday off from work, I went to the auto center close to the theatre so I could drop it off and walk to the theatre for a movie. Decided to go ahead and watch The Prodigy, as the alternatives for watching were ehh, at best. To be honest, this was quite the terrible Presidents Day weekend at the movie theatre. The Prodigy certainly has some good things going for it, most of the violence is either psychological or off screen to allow you to fill in the disturbing details in your mind; it is also incredibly chilling! Unfortunately, the vapid characters and paint-by-numbers plot keep the film from achieving what it so desperately wants to achieve. Lots of great material here for what could’ve been a solid horror film with a character that combines what we love about Damien and Chucky. For fans of both The Silence of the Lambs and The Exorcist, you’ll instantly notice the old school Orion Pictures logo from SOTL followed by the clearly red text on black background taken from Friedkin’s masterpiece.

Sarah and John Blume are thrilled when their young son Miles starts to show signs of rapid development and extreme intelligence. Their family bliss soon turns into a living nightmare when Miles’ behavior becomes increasingly erratic and violent by his eighth birthday. After seeking help from two experts, Sarah is horrified to learn that her beloved prodigy may be under the grip of a dark and supernatural force. Fearing for her family’s safety, Sarah must choose between her maternal instinct to love and protect Miles and a desperate need to investigate what or who is causing his dark turn. She is forced to look for answers in the past, taking the audience on a wild ride; one where the line between perception and reality becomes frighteningly blurry

There is nothing wrong with jump scares. That’s right. You may hear of jump scares talked about in a less than favorable way; but it’s not the concept of the jump scare itself that is bad for horror (or any genre for the matter). The inclusion of some jump scares can be an element that aids in creating the physiologically engaging horror movie experience. It is the misuse, overuse, and poorly timed jump scares that work against the success of a movie or, more specifically, keeping it from reaching the critical potential that it could. It comes down to the argument of suspense versus shock. Now, a horror movie cannot be completely void of shock because then it differs little from suspense-thrillers. One of the main differences between suspense/thrillers and horror films is the intent of the writer and/or director–it’s that intent to horrify that separates thriller from horror. It’s this intent to horrify that places the often genre contested The Silence of the Lambs more in the horror category than thriller (though, it is a hybrid). Simply stated, The Prodigy is overstuffed with jump scares. When a writer or director relies upon jump scares to deliver the horror instead of crafting lingering horrifying moments through the character or plot development, then it plays as a shallow story. Strip away the jump scares, and The Prodigy is left with little to deliver. Think of a horror film supported by proliferated jump scares as a chocolate Easter bunny or egg that is hollow on the inside. It looks tasty, may even taste good (especially if made out of dark echolocate), but when you realize that the center is hollow, the experience is mitigated from where it could’ve been with a solid dark chocolate bunny.

I remarked to another horror fan on Twitter that with a few tweaks, The Prodigy could have actually been good–not great–but good. When you’re channeling what made The Omen and Child’s Play work so well, you have a lot of good material to create an original expression of these premises. One of the best parts of the movie, and one that was seriously creepy and unnerving is the performance of Jackson Robert Scott as Miles. He delivers an outstanding performance with his two contrasting identities; unfortunately, he was not used to the extent that he could have been. Had screenwriter Jeff Buhler and director Nicholas McCarthy spent more time on developing the key characters and simplifying the plot, then the movie may have been better received horror fans and general audiences. Although the movie is titled The Prodigy, the intelligence of Miles is mostly used as a McGuffin. Developed by Hitchcock, it’s a device that is used to jumpstart the central plot but has little to do with the plot itself. The best example of this is the money Marion steels in Psycho. Had she not stolen the money, she would not have stayed at the infamous Bates Motel. After that theft launches her on her roadtrip to Fairvale, it bares little consequence to the remainder of the events. However, the McGuffin IS important because it is what launches us into the thick of the plot.

Instead of all the jump scares, it would have been nicer for the movie to have worked to create an overwhelming sense of dread and keep the possession of Miles a secret longer. The film tips its hat too soon to some of the moments that should’ve been drawn out longer to increase the level of suspense. With a reliance upon jump scares to serve as a spectacle, I am reminded of researcher Linda Williams narrative vs spectacle argument. Too much spectacle, the film suffers because therein lacks any real substance; too much narrative, the film suffers because it fails to be driven as visually as it should. A horror film strikes a delicate balance between narrative and spectacle in order to achieve a compelling story with moments of terror that impact the audience emotionally and physiologically. The characters are not given the treatment that they should have been. We never truly care about any of the characters and thus do not form that important connection with the movie. Had the moments of shock been used to drive the plot forward more so than just work for a cheap scream of jump, then they would have had much more power than they did. And then there’s the ending. It plays off as showcasing a lack of imagination and more consideration paid to setting up a sequel. Without giving away any spoilers, there was a way for the ending to take a page out of the Child’s Play handbook in order to setup a sequel instead of the manner in which it did.

Looking for a popcorn horror movie to watch on a date or just one that will be fun for 1.5hrs, then this movie work perfectly fine. It will not impact you as The Omen or Child’s Play did, but it will deliver some fun thrills and a mostly original interpretation of a solid premise.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald” review

Fantastic Beasts: the crimes of screenwriting. I am still not entirely sure what I watched last night. J.K. Rowling’s plot for the second film in the Fantastic Beasts is all over the place, goes in every direction except intentionally forward. When the Harry Potter spinoff franchise needed an Empire Strikes Back, it gets an Attack of the Clones. Referencing a hyperbolic statement from J.K. that made its way around Twitter, I am totally in belief that she did, in fact, write the screenplay in 25mins. From pacing issues to odd tonal shifts and a lack of focus, the screenplay suffers from a case of sequelitis. The Crimes of Grindelwald appears to rely on technical marvel and spectacle more so than a compelling narrative. The movie is full of new and familiar characters (plus some Harry Potter cameos), fantastical beasts, and explosive sequences of events, but ultimately loses air ad runs flat. Much in the same way that the first movie felt like the preface to a book, this one feels that it too has the goal to simply setup the next chapter. Moreover, the movie feels like too little plot stretched over too much runtime. Which is a shame, because there is clearly an attempt to provide an escapist allegory for primarily racism and, to a lesser extent, sexuality. Subtext of heavy psycho-social and moralistic themes is nothing new to the Rowling-verse, but Grindelwald simply gets lost on its journey to deliver a powerful thought-provoking story paired with high-flying adventure. This sequel is certainly darker than its predecessor, but fails to provide a well-developed plot that will drive the remaining films forward.

In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans of raising pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings, Albus Dumbledore enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world (IMDb).

Many movies have A, B, and C stories. The A story is the central plot that focusses on the central and opposition character’s external goal; and the B and C stories are typically the subplots that focus on character development, internal needs, and/or supporting character stories. The problem with this movie is that it randomly switches focus, tone, and direction arbitrarily without any rhyme or reason. Each of the A, B, C, D….in short, there are too many stories (plots) in this movie…plots–individually–are interesting. And stacked in an effective manner, could provide quite a bit of meat in this sandwich. Unfortunately, the focus of the layers and ingredients is on the arrangement or presentation of the sandwich more so than allowing the famished to sink their teeth into the otherwise delicious sandwich. Or think of it as the shifting staircases in Hogwarts; you could ascend and descend the staircases for hours and still not make any real progress toward your destination. Structurally, the movie suffers from a shifty foundation. So convoluted is the plot, that it continually introduces new information and elements just for surprise, shock, or brief entertainment value rather than setting up the story in the first act, throwing the characters into crisis mode in the second act, then providing solid resolution or realization in the third. It’s like one really long first act and a rushed second and third acts. As I warn my screenwriting students about science-fiction or fantasy writing, often times, these screenwriters are so wrapped up in world-building that the plot and characters suffer. Perhaps the characters in Grindelwald are complex enough (but truly debatable) but the plot is far from simple. After two movies, it appears that J.K.’s talent for writing novels is not as evident in screenwriting. Hence why many parts of this movie feel better suited to a novel than movie.

I could go on and on about the plot holes and pacing problems, but I feel I’ve made my evaluation sufficiently enough. So, now I want to switch gears to discussing what IS interesting about the movie. There are elements and attempts at themes (and subtext) that almost worked. Had more attention been paid to the logistics of screenwriting, then these would have been thought-provoking or at least meaningful. Upon my initial watch (and full disclosure, I plan to watch it again b/c I’ve heard it’s better on the second screening), the themes of racism, ethics, and sexuality are clearly present. Instead of a classic approach that features two differing ethnic races, the two races are the magical and no-mag (or muggles), skin color or country of origin do not factor into the equation. Grindelwald seeks to elevate the magical above the no-mag because he feels that the magical race is superior to the no-mag and can prevent the world from plunging into war. Ironically, his views insight mass violence and death. Furthermore, he wants the no-mag to serve the magical because the no-mag are disposable. Clearly, there are parallels between the American Civil War and Wold War II. Moreover, Grindelwald’s determined for the magical to stop hiding from the rest of the world and should come out to show the regular humans that they are the superior race–the super race, if you will.

Speaking of “not hiding,” the film also touches on sexuality in the wizarding world. For the first time, a character’s sexuality is pivotal to the plot and thus affords J.K. and WarnerMedia to comment on that in the story. Not a spoiler since J.K. stated it in a tweet, Dumbledore was in a romantic relationship with Grindelwald when they were much younger. It was always rumored that Dumbledore was gay, but this film puts those rumors to rest by addressing his past. Unlike a film that would simply add this character trait to the plot for the sake of inclusivity, Grindelwald allows for this to be an important part to the plot because Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a pact when they were in love never to fight each other directly. This theme of being free to love whom you will is also witnessed in the relationship between Jacob and Queenie. According to the present laws, Jacob and Queenie are not permitted to marry because a magical individual cannot engage in a romantic relationship with a non-mag. Queenie could wind up in the Ministry of Magic’s prison. In the end, Queenie couldn’t live with the divide between her and Jacob that the Ministry created, so she chooses a new future for herself. Although only directly touched on in one scene, there is also some commentary on ethics. At one point, Dumbledore tells Scamander that he appreciates that Scamander always does what is right, not what will best suit him or support a particular side of a conflict. He is concerned with only engaging in decisions that are ethically sound regardless of the personal benefit.

Even more than its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald works diligently to convince you that these movies belong in the same universe as the original Harry Potter movies. The return to Hogwarts and a few familiar character appearances work to connect this film to the rest of the Wizarding World, but at times feel incredibly forced. You will also learn more about Dumbledore’s long lost, secret brother, the origin of Voldemort’s pet snake, and the lineage of Bellatrix Lestrange. With three more movies to go, there is still time to turn this franchise around for the better, but that will largely hinge on the next movie.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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All the Horror! 31 Horror Movies for October

If you haven’t figured out by now, my favorite genre is horror! During the month of October, I am planning to watch, and I challenge you to watch, 31 horror movies. Each day, I will add a movie with a brief (and yes, I know I am not known for being brief) analysis. Instead of a separate blog entry for each of the 31 movies, I am going to add to this entry then post what I watched/reviewed on my Twitter (RLTerry1). So, if you’re not following me on Twitter, now would be a great time! Remember to use the hashtag #AllTheHorror  #31HorrorMoviesChallenge or #31HorrorFilms31Days when you post about your horror movies this month! As I am someone who enjoys order and a method to accomplishing a movie challenge, I am dedicating each 5-7 days to a different subgenre of horror. My plan is to begin with its German expressionism origins and work my way up to more recent movies and trends. Although the idea is to dedicate a whole week to the selected subgenres, I may switch it up every five days in order to get six different kinds of horror films. To my podcast friends, I would love to join the #AllTheHorror conversations this month. Send me an email or direct message on Twitter to setup a time for me to join your next horror discussion. Let’s begin!

First Group (1920-30s German expressionism, French surrealism, and early horror)

Movie 1 (10/01)

Nosferatu (1922). Directed by F.W. Murnau, Nosferatu is widely considered the first vampire movie and direct forerunner to Universal Studios’ Dracula. This early horror movie is so incredibly good that you forget that there is no spoken dialogue in the film. One of the most impactful elements of the experience of watching this beautiful example of the best of horror, is the film’s argument that vampires are real. In essence, I feel strongly that this film wants us to believe that “Dracula-like” vampires are real and must be feared. Steeped in German expressionistic cinematic stylings, this film typifies the stylistic technique by using exaggerated gothic architecture and harsh shadows. In this cinematic movement, directors used symbolic acting, events, and architecture to tell the story. Although this film IS based on Bram Stoker’s iconic gothic novel, Murnau changed the names because the Stoker estate felt it was being ripped off. Beyond the contributions to the American horror film, this film is also considered to be the first to include a montage. Now commonplace, this was an innovative decision for Murnau. The symbolism in the imagery is beautifully executed and truly creates a macabre atmosphere. While there are many ways of reading this film, some of the more common metaphors boil down to the content of our nightmares or what wakes you with trouble at the witching hour of 3am. War, disease, cancer, security, and love are certainly visible in the imagery and production design. As most of the film is covered in shadows, think of this as the dark corners of your mind. A highly visual means of storytelling, Nosferatu captures the imagination through the setting and characters.

Movie 2 (10/02)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921). Often cited as the first feature length film to incorporate the twist ending, director Robert Wiene’s German expressionism masterpiece contributed significantly to the development of the American horror film. Like something straight out of a macabre tale from Edgar Allan Poe, this early work of cinema was the first to truly depict–visually–the inner workings of a disturbed and depraved mind–a fractured psyche. The production design is brilliant. With its skewed perspectives, warped imagery, imaginative lines, shadows, and more, this film provides audiences with a glimpse into what Freud calls the uncannyUncanny being a chief component of the American horror film. Like with many horror films, the central conflict revolves around a mysterious death, and a bizarre investigation ensues. Whereas the plot itself may not be horror by today’s understanding, many scholars including myself, consider it to be the first true horror film. Furthermore, this film’s visual stylings inspired some of what Universal used in their early works of horror from Phantom of the Opera to Wolfman. It has it all! An ominous villain, extremes of emotions, tensions increase and release, and here is visual terror. Preceding Nosferatu by one year, this film set the foundation for German expressionistic cinema, followed by many directors. Even to this day, many horror films include exaggerated shapes, shadows, and symbolism. Although the plots of horror films have changes since this film, the visual elements it established are still very much a part of the American horror film.

Movie 3 (10/03)

The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Before the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, there was the quintessential Lon Chaney cinematic masterpiece Universal Pictures’ The Phantom of the Opera. The second horror film to be released by Universal (with the Hunchback of Notre Dame being the first), this film defined the capabilities of special effects makeup. In fact, Lon Chaney took most of his secrets to his grave (I learned that at the Horror Makeup Show at Universal Orlando). Having just watched Nosferatu three days ago, it is clear to me that Chaney was channeling his impressions of the Max Schreck performance. Far different from its more modern adaptations, wether is the 2004 film or the original Webber musical, this film has a macabre, ominous atmosphere about it. It is creepy from the onset. One of the traits of a horror film is its innate ability to be pervasive, to question popular culture and provide us with different perspectives on cultural norms, traditions, sociology, or institutions. And this film does precisely that! Prior to Dracula, this is considered by many to be the first gothic romance (although you can also argue Hunchback was first). But in terms of the lighting, production design, and performances, this film became the standard that many others would follow in order to inject romance into horror. Phantom of the Opera is rich with themes! As horror often is. We have the classic romance of unrequited love, beauty vs the beast (and we have different types of beasts in the story), the very concept of a ghoul, and more. This film contributed vastly to the horror foundational library upon which many tales would be developed. Beautiful horror.

Movie 4 (10/04)

Dracula (1931). Universal continues strong into the horror genre with an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula! Bela Lugosi, who many consider to be the definitive Dracula, stars in this gothic romance that’s incredibly foundational in the American horror film. This hypnotic horror movie is both beautiful and terrifying. You may wonder why Lon Chaney did not play this iconic role since he had a winning streak with The Hunchback and The Phantom of the Opera, well unfortunately Mr. Chaney passed away as Dracula was going into production. Lugosi was not unknown to the world of showbusiness; he was the star of the Broadway show Dracula in 1927. The most memorable parts of this film are Lugosi’s performance and the brilliant cinematography by Karl Freund that give the unmistakable look and feel of the film. Not taking away from director Tod Browning, but he benefited greatly from the talent of the aforementioned gentlemen. To his credit though, Browning looked to Murnau’s Nosferatu for the overall production of his take on Dracula. Although the production design, lighting, and tone of the film are quite similar to Nosferatu, the biggest difference is the addition of sound. Drawing your attention in almost the same way Lugosi hypnotizes his victims, his background in live theatre enabled him to capture your imagination and gaze with his highly stylized mannerisms and vocal inflections. Perhaps what fascinates us with the act of vampirism is that is it like an elegant, slow-motion assault, executed with precision and politeness by a beautiful creature who charms you into giving yourself completely over to them.

Movie 5 (10/05)

Un Chien Andalou (1929). You may be wondering why this film is part of my #31HorrorFilms31Days. After all, it is not ordinarily a film that you think of when watching horror movies. However, this film in conjunction with other early works from the 1920s and 30s provided the very foundation upon which the horror film was built. At its roots, the American horror film is comprised of German expressionism, French surrealism, and Freud’s uncanny. Un Chien Andalou, directed by none other than Salvador Dali, is the definitive surrealist film. Famous for its opening scene that still evokes shock, awe, and makes you queasy to this day, this film is full of outstanding imagery that is collectively some of the most searing and memorable ever to appear on the silver screen. Just from that brief description, it should become clear as to why this film is foundational in creating the imagery of a horror movie. If expressionism sought to depict subjective emotions through architecture, lighting, and symbolism, then surrealism countered that movement by creating a super reality that destroyed rationalism in exchange for the hidden, underlying laws of our world. Releasing the creative potential of the unconscious mind was the goal. There is very little story in this film, but rather a series of sequences that demonstrate Not only is this film influential in the evolution of the American horror film, but it’s arguably the single most famous short film in history. I wish I could provide you with an analysis of the story, but there simply isn’t one. Lots and lots of surrealist images that are purely an artform meant to shock, terrorize, indulge, and humor audiences. Ars Gratia Artis (latin: art for art’s sake).r

Movie 6 (10/06)

The Mummy (1932). From the same writer who brought us 1931’s Dracula, The Mummy provides the horror genre with a foundation in creepy existential romanticism. Interestingly, Boris Karloff’s mummy costume may be instantly recognizable; however, he only spends a few minutes wrapped up as the mummy. The rest of the movie, he is dressed pretty snazzy. His makeup is incredible, not because it’s flashy but because it’s just the right amount of texture to give us the impression that he could potentially return to the sarcophagus from which he came. What The Mummy contributes to the development of the American horror film is more than the creepy romance; it provides audiences with more than an hour (yes, just 70mins) of affective atmospheric terror and dread. While both Dracula and Frankenstein have impressive creatures and effects, the Mummy demonstrates an exemplary commitment to recreating Egypt. In so many scenes, we have beautiful artifacts and decorations that transport us from our (now) living rooms to Cairo. This film may be a combination of shots on a sound stage and in the Mojave desert, but the composite on film convinces me that I am in Egypt. We may only see Karloff in his mummy wrappings for a few minutes and that terrifying face with the penetrating gaze, but his performance was so effective that these images are ingrained in our mind’s eye to this day.

Second group (1950s science-fiction, haunting, and proto-slasher)

Movie 7 (10/07)

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Universal delivers audiences another monster, but this time it is in a tropical lagoon instead of a cold, dark crypt. The 1950s was a time that horror was transitioning from far away lands and long ago times to other worldly destinations in the present and future. Nestled nicely in between The Thing from Another World and Forbidden Planet, Jack Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon countered the common science-fiction movies of the day with a brilliant science-fiction horror that was equal parts terrifying and impressive. While space and distant planets could be replicated on a sound stage, this film chose the difficult task of shooting on top of and underwater. I am so incredibly impressed by the costuming of the gill-man and the amount of time spent shooting underwater. By all measurable accounts, Arnold is one of the greatest science-fiction horror directors of all time. In fact, two of his movies are forever inshrined in the opening song from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Whereas the earlier Universal monsters were largely the subjects of gothic or creepy romances, this was a solid horror film that paved the way for the modern film in 1960 with Psycho. The 1950s were a highly transitional time for horror and this film successfully bridges the gap between the stories of the 1920s and 30s and adds in additional kills and scary moments to provide audiences with a fantastic experience. The plot of this film is also exceptional! It has razor-sharp pacing and culminates in an exciting showdown. Little known fact, this film played in 3D in theatres of the day! While many of the scenes were shot on Universal’s backlot, the above water and under water scenes were shot in Florida. From the writing to costuming and production design, this science-fiction horror movie played such an important role in the development of horror films.

Movie 8 (10/08)

The Thing from Another World (1951). During the 1950s, horror takes a turn to the science-fiction realm. Whereas monsters were a stable of the 20s and 30s, science, space, and oceans became the settings and subjects of the films. Interestingly, this can be seen as an extension of the early monsters era because we still encounter monsters in these other worldly stories. In the 1980s, John Carpenter would remake this iconic sci-fi horror film. Although I am typically a fan of originals most, I must confess that I prefer Carpenter’s The Thing to the original. However, no mistaking it, I really like The Thing from Another World. What I respect most about this film and what I feel that it contributes significantly to the horror genre is the power and terror evoked from that which is unseen. This film demonstrates a mastery of that which we cannot see. Hitchcock once stated that there is “nothing more terrifying than an unopened door.” One of the running themes in this movement of the American horror film is the concept of being rescued by institutional, scientific, or governmental authorities. Plot wise, to be honest, I feel that the original has a stronger story; however, the visceral horror was definitely increased in the Carpenter remake.

Movie 9 (10/09)

House of Wax (1953). Vincent Price jumpstarts his career in horror in the classic House of Wax. A little known fact is that, while many think of this as the original, it was actually a remake of the earlier Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). This visually stunning horror film still holds up well today. Although the 2005 remake is more horrific in terms of the visceral horror, the 1953 version’s plot is more sound and the characters far more interesting–especially the character of Professor Jarrod (Price). Even by today’s standards, this film is highly disturbing and assaults the eye at every turn. From the melting life-like faces of wax figures to a vat that’s designed to pour molten wax over human bodies. Many argue that Price’s Prof. Jarrod is a prototype for the slasher that would be perfected by Hitchcock in Psycho. Price’s performance in this film is highly memorable. He may be recognized first and foremost by his unparalleled creepy voice, but his acting is top notch as well. Interestingly House of Wax is in color whereas his most famous role of Loren in 1959’s House on Haunted Hill would be in grayscale. Between Jarrod skulking about and stalking his prey wearing a black “Jack the Ripper” coat and hat and composer David Buttolph’s haunting score, the atmosphere in this film is exceptionally macabre. If you are frightened or creeped out by wax figures, then you are in for a treat because the cinematography in this film provides many lingering shots of wax figures seemingly staring at you. Perhaps they are crying out for help because they are a prisoner of the museum.Unlike 2005’s House of Wax, this one may not be a cut-and-dry horror film, but that is to its advantage. It’s the whodunit element to the plot that gives this film more substance than its future counterpart.

Movie 10 (10/10)

House on Haunted Hill (1959). Prior to Vincent Price’s House on Haunted Hill there weren’t many movies about haunted house movies. At least, none that have stood the test of time in the way that this film has. While this isn’t a true haunting movie, it certainly contains many of the plot elements and scares used in today’s haunted house movies. Much like the whodunit concept provided House of Wax with a more substantive plot, it also did the same for the plot here. In terms of practical effects, House on Haunted Hill was one of the first to use a pulley system in order to make a skeleton dance across the floor. If you had the pleasure of watching this film when it was first released, you may have been in a theatre where a similar system was rigged up for a skeleton to fly over the audience during that scene. While this may not be a “scary” movie, it is still an important horror movie in the evolution of the American horror film. It came at a pivotal time as screenwriters and directors were slowly transitioning from the classical horror film to the modern. It wouldn’t be until the following year that Alfred Hitchcock would give us the first modern horror film in Psycho. Most memorable in this film is the performance of Vincent Price! From his smirks to macabre gestures to terrifying voice, he is the strongest actor and demonstrates the ability to carry the film. Back stabbings, twists, turns, and a haunting atmosphere give this film brilliant production design and action points. It truly set the standard for the haunted house concept even though it has a whodunit element to it. Future haunting movies would borrow from House on Haunted Hill in order to achieve their desired effects.

Movie 11 (10/11)

The Blob (1958). Happy 60th birthday! This classic 1950s science-fiction horror B-movie has everything that you want in a film of this era. And it’s not just Steve McQueen in the lead role, the whole movie is grossly underrated for it’s entertainment value and contribution to the horror library. Whereas there is little in this film that will induce nightmares. the film is incredibly successful at building up suspense and generating tension through the various levels of conflict. I love the practical effects in this movie. Although the movements of the blob are mostly jerky, it is highly effective at increasing the level of the very disturbing nature of the movie. Interestingly, The Blob was the first movie to specifically target the teenage audience. It was made to provide a great experience in a traditional cinema and drive-ins. There is also some meta aspects to the movie as there is a scene with a horror movie within a horror movie. I loved that! I would totally watch the movie that they were watching at the town cinema. Even for its day, this movie knows precisely what it is, schlock and all. Unlike many modern horror movies, this one does not take itself too seriously yet never stoops to gimmicky plot devices. There is an intangible fun factor with this movie that enables it to be enjoyable 60 years later.

Third group (1960s emergence of the slasher, psychological horror, and the modern zombie)

For an article on the first modern horror film, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, click here. I am not covering it for #AllTheHorror because I’ve written many articles on it.

Movie 12 (10/13)

Peeping Tom (1960). Released the same year as Hitchcock’s Psycho, this voyeuristic horror film was met with a gross amount of negative press, so much so that it completely derailed the career of director Michael Powell. Perhaps this film was ahead of its time. Had it been received more favorably by critics then, it’s entirely possible that it could have earned the moniker “the first modern horror film” instead of Psycho since it was released a month prior. It’s highly disturbing and will give you chills as the victims look into the mirror, watching their faces as they are stabbed to death. It reminds me of a precursor to the torture porn movies that would not appear commercially until the first Saw. Much like Psycho, this film also contains a psychological trauma element in it. Mark, our peeping tom, was forced to watch terrifying experiments that his father would conduct. Whereas this film may have been thought to be shocking for shock-value alone, it is not without its depth. I appreciate this film for its commentary on the theory that we are all voyeurs. Not only is the audience fixated on the actions inside the cinematic window, but they are also enamored by the director who is crafting the story.

Movie 13 (10/14)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Happy 50th birthday! Controversial director Roman Polanski’s cinematic horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby is just as horrifying today as it was when it was released. The tension, suspense, and psychological terror still haunt audiences today just like it did 50 years ago. Inducted into the Criterion Collection, this film was groundbreaking for horror cinema and paved the way for later supernatural horror films like The Exorcist. What I appreciate most about this film is the power to frighten audiences without ever giving the audience something on screen to be frightened of. In fact, we never see Satan’s child. There is unthinkable danger around each corner of this brilliant motion picture. While many post-modern horror films rely primarily upon shock, this film uses the power of that which is horrifyingly inevitable to thrill the audience. Polanski provides lots of exposition in the first act that carries audiences through the rest of the film. Countering the approach from Hitchcock, in which the characters are at the mercy of the plot, Polanski’s characters emerge as real people in a situation that feels incredibly real. This film artfully depicts allegory on rape culture and concerns of what consent means, resulting in a uniquely horrifying story about bodily autonomy and the looming threat of strong and unknown forces. It isn isn’t a rape revenge tale so much as a chilling reminder of the very real threats of assault that women and men face every day. In a masterful fashion, Polanski’s direction enables the characters and plot to transcend the story. It’s that realness that increases the terror felt in the film exponentially.

Movie 14 (10/14)

The Innocents (1961). Based on Henry James’ story The Turn of the Screw, the 1961 The Innocents is a heart-pounding psychological horror film that successfully adds in elements of hauntings and possessions. The film instantly draws you into this seemingly innocent world of gardens, English countryside estates, and orphan children. If you like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, then you will definitely enjoy this film. While some stories suffer in the translation from page to screen, the film cleared up some of the ambiguities from the novel. Unlike many horror films in which most of the most disturbing or frightening moments take place in the dark, director Jack Clayton crafts terrifying moments during the day. The combination of stylistic editing and fantastic cinematography enabled Clayton to provide audiences with an atmosphere of dread during the second and third acts. While the first act may seem as though it starts out slowly, it quickly begins to ramp up the suspense and the anticipation of the dread that is about to befall our central character of Miss Giddens. You may be wondering why the title of this film is The Innocents instead of the novella’s The Turn of the Screw, and that’s because there was a stage adaptation titled The Innocents before the movie. The central theme in this film is the loss of innocence, and it is left up to the audience to conclude whether the phantoms are real or figments of Miss Giddens’ imagination. That being the case, it gives the film a realness that can easily serve as material to discuss in a film studies class. Contributing to the evolution of the horror film, it demonstrably clear that this film provides the horror library with a model of excellence in the haunting and possession sub-genre. Cocktail Party Massacre highlights the film’s subtext of sexual repression and projection. Themes such as human sexuality and past trauma are recurring themes in the American horror film. In fact, many horror films are similar to morality plays. But these plays are told through creative, frightening ways.

Movie 15 (10/15)

Night of the Living Dead (1968). George A. Romero’s timeless horror classic Night of the Living Dead was a groundbreaking masterpiece in 1968 and continues to inspire today. Although it is not the first zombie movie (that would be White Zombies followed by I Walked with a Zombie), it is the first modern zombie film. Every zombie movie made ever since can trace its roots back to this iconic horror film. When you think of a zombie, this is perhaps what you think of. Place yourself in the seats of 1968 cinema. Eight years prior, Hitchcock gave you the first modern horror film, and other directors began to emerge to craft their horror stories for the screen. While slashers were beginning to develop, hauntings, and possessions also began to emerge, George A. Romero took a shoestring budget and decided to shock audiences with something never seen before (and thankfully before the new MPAA rating system took full-effect). He didn’t invent the zombie, but he did invent THE zombie movie. Since most of us horror fans have seen this multiples times, reviewed it, and even watched documentaries about it, I thought I would talk about the sociological themes found in the film. Themes in Night of the Living Dead include alienation, cannibalism, racism, and identity. Furthermore, there is an interesting question one could ask: who is the true enemy? Understanding the sociological implications of this film come into full view when exploring when the film was released. What was happening at the time? The US was emerging from the height of the civil rights era and the aftermath of the Vietnam war. One of the common theoretical approaches to understanding the themes of this film is to view it as analogy of the US in Vietnam. Moreover, the zombies can be seen as racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation minorities in the US. There are so many approaches to studying this film. Beyond the groundbreaking content and story within the film, Romero also broke ground by making the strong leading man black, which was against the norm of Hollywood at the time (and to some extent today). There is so much to understanding the significance of this film, the power of its storytelling. Entire articles and books have been written on it, but I hope this brief paragraph inspires you to open your mind to the phenomenal nature of Night of the Living Dead.

Movie 23 (10/21) Nope, you’re not counting wrong, I watched this on Oct 21st but it fits in better with this group. Was introduced to this movie by my cinephile penpal in Germany for our weekly concurrent film screening.

Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Even before satires and parodies of the horror genre because popular, Roman Polanski set out to direct a satire on Hammer films. This amusing film takes the tropes of Hammer and vampire films but does it in such a way that it walks a fine line between total satire and parody. Contrary to many satirical and parody films, this one is not entirely laugh out loud funny. In fact, most of the humor is dependent on the audience’s familiarity with Hammer Films. More than a satire though, this is clearly a Roman Polanski film based upon the production design and cinematography. The sets are beautiful and incredibly well used. One may even go so far as to suggest that the Count’s castle is a character in and of itself. Despite being visually stunning, the film is not one that is well-known or familiar to even horror audiences. Hammer Films became famous in the 1950-70s by taking the classic “Universal” monsters and filming them in vivid color for the first time. Most of these films took place in gothic atmospheres and increased the violence compared to the original films in the 1930s. Polanski takes the tropes established by the Hammer monster films and combines it with an approach to comment on the absurdity of the actions in those films. It’s a dark comedy that feels very much ahead of its time. Perhaps had the film been made 20yrs later, then it would be more familiar to general horror audiences. More then the content of this film, because this is one of the last films to star Sharon Tate and the fact that she and her husband Roman are in it together, there is a disconcerting spectre about the film. As you may know, Tate and others were brutally murdered by the Manson cult in 1969. That fact alone makes this film eerie. From the sets to the characters, this is a remarkably entertaining film that is one part whimsical and the other part macabre.

Fourth group (1970s/80s horror, slashers and possessions reign, franchises are born)

Movie 16 (10/16)

Halloween (1978). That music, tho! With a Jack-O-Lantern in almost every scene and a mysterious POV of the killer following by a shocking reveal at the beginning, John Carpenter’s nerve-wrecking thriller Halloween terrified audiences with its home invasion meets slasher to redefine what a horror film could do! In fact, this film is widely regarded as the definitive slasher and was the highest grossing independent film of all time when it was released. Furthermore, Halloween also provides us with the archetype final girl Laurie Strode played by Jamie Lee Curtis (the daughter of Psycho‘s Janet Leigh). There is so much to love about this film that entire books could be written and classes taught on it. It’s funny, exciting, terrifying, and more. It was directed with as much attention to the art of the story as the visceral horror of the action. Much like with Night of the Living Dead,  I don’t seek to review this iconic film per se, but instead want to do a brief film analysis. Heavily influenced by Bulgarian philosopher Tzvetan Todorov who wrote prolifically on a character arc that was comprised of five stages: equilibrium –> big event upsets the order –> an acknowledgment of what is going on –> begins the path to resolution –> through a showdown, resolution is reached and order is restored. There is a strong feminism theme in the film evident by the strong, independent Laurie who stands her ground and protects herself and the kids. She is never objectified nor painted to be helpless. She typifies the final girl through her androgynous clothing, studious behavior, and the fact she fights with the main villain and survives. With minimal dialogue, Carpenter focused this film on the powerful, memorable visual storytelling told through the creative and effective use of substantive cinematography. Instead of stooping to the inclusion of frame upon frame of gore, Carpenter chooses suspense and tension for these elements provide a film with substance and narrative. Although Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released prior to Halloween, this film truly understood the emerging slasher genre, and perfected it! It is the model on which so many other films are based.

Movie 17 (10/17)

The Exorcist (1973). You’ll never look at pea soup the same way again. Not only one of the most profitable horror films of all time, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist remains timeless. Coming up on its 45th anniversary, this is the definitive possession horror film. Thematically, this film is pivotal in the evolution of the American horror library because it takes the concept of the external “monster” and moves it into the mind and body. In many ways, Linda Blair’s Regan takes the psycho-social horror of Psycho and combines it with a classic monster and adds in a Rosemary’s Baby. This trifecta of excellence works together in order to provide the plot and characters of The Exorcist with substance. Much like Psycho was the first modern horror film and proto-slasher, The Exorcist is widely regarded as the first modern possession film. There are elements of possession in Rosemary’s Baby, but I don’t technically consider it a possession film. This film also takes the idea of the “home invasion” to the next level by having the innocent Regan’s body invaded. While many films prior to The Exorcist depicted the occult, few (if any) have endured like this icon of horror has. Perhaps what frightens us most about this film is the fact of how close to home it hits. The MacNeil family could be our own or our neighbors. By default, the very setting and atmosphere of the film is relatable and realistic. There is a high degree of vulnerability on display. Not only can our homes be invaded, but our bodies can too. Whereas some may only see the effects of the demonic possession and focus on them (the vomiting, masochistic behaviors, or focussed vulgar profanity), these are all incidental. The point of The Exorcist is to provide social commentary on dehumanization and how evil forces and behaviors can affect us in such a way that we feel like animals unworthy of God’s love. But no matter how dark times get, redemption is possible. Whereas demonic possessions are not a daily part of our lives, by extension, this can be explored as a metaphor for the dehumanization witnessed today such as sexual assault, physical/emotional abuse, and other ways in which people are devalued.

Movie 18 (10/18)

Halloween (2018). Happy Halloween Michael! David Gordon Green’s Halloween truly is the sequel that we have been waiting for in the Halloween franchise. Green set out to direct a Halloween movie that he desired to work both as an homage to the original whilst crafting an original story that could do more than be a great horror film, but be a great film period. And suffice it to say, he delivered in spades (or knives, as it were haha). Words cannot even begin to capture the energy of the auditorium last night. From screen to entrance Studio Movie Grill Tampa (my regular cinema) was filled with a level of energy that I’ve only ever witnessed at JurassicAvengers, and Star Wars movies. Twitter is all a’buzz this morning with those who saw it at pre-screenings and those of us who saw it at 7 o’clock last night. When I’ve been asked what I think, I am quick to respond that you need to throw out the rule book because Michael is writing this story. From echoes of the original (and some of Halloween 2) it still succeeds in providing longtime fans and those newly discovering the franchise with an original story that will hook you from the very beginning when you realize that all bets are off because no one is safe. It’s thrilling, engaging, and fun. It may lack Dean Cundey’s brilliant cinematography from the original (he was also the cinematographer for Jurassic Park, Carpenter’s The Thing and Back to the Future), but visually the film has those quintessential moments that act as a throwback to Carpenter’s original groundbreaking slasher. From the vintage opening title sequence accompanied by that iconic score to the showdown, Blum House’s Halloween is a brilliant addition to the franchise and is destined to be a future classic. Click here for my full review!

Movie 19 (10/20)

Poltergeist (1982). “They’re [still] here!” More than 35 years later, Stephen Spielberg and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist still terrifies audiences today. Coming off the successes of Spielberg’s Jaws & Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this powerhouse producer-director team (note: Hooper received the official director credit) crafted a horror film that became an instant classic then, and still holds up today. With Spielberg heading up the story and Hooper in the director’s chair, both cinematic geniuses combined their talent for generating material for nightmares to take the “haunted” house film sub-genre of horror to the next level. Storytelling and cinematic elements aside, another primary reason the film still haunts and intrigues audiences today is the lore of a legendary curse attached to this film. For audiences back in 1982, and possibly still to this day, following watching the film, friends may have found themselves only venturing by an alleged haunted house on a dare. The film’s impressive ability to take the haunted house concept up to a level never seen before–in fact–it essentially created the modern haunted house genre seen in today’s horror films. In short, Poltergeist is an icon, and stands alongside films such as PsychoThe Exorcist, and The Shining. Probably the most terrifying element of all is the setting–mundane upper middle class America suburbia. No longer where “haunted” houses confided to old mansions or hotels, but could be located next door to you. That is, if your neighborhood is also built upon a burial ground. Don’t forget to experience the house at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights (CA/FL)! For my full retrospective review of this iconic film, click HERE!

Movie 20 (10/20)

Friday the 13th (1980). Ch ch ch, ah ah ah. The sleepaway summer camp experience was forever changed in the summer of 1980 when a slasher slaughtered a bunch of horny teenagers along the shores of Crystal Lake. Spanning more than three decades and a dozen feature films (too bad it’s not a baker’s dozen, wink), the Friday the 13th franchise made us never look at a hockey mask in the same way after Part 3. This iconic franchise has also found its way back into the headlines with the legal battle over the rights to the Friday the 13th name between the original screenwriter Victor Miller and producer/director Sean S. Cunningham. I recently ran a Twitter poll to determine which is the crowd favorite in the series, and the majority of respondents voted for the original movie, followed by Jason Lives. Like the majority of the 80 respondents in the poll, the original is also my favorite, although it is not a “Jason” movie per se. Releasing in 1980, Friday the 13th helped shape the modern slasher along side Texas Chainsaw Massacre and HalloweenA Nightmare on Elm Street would arrive in 1984. With his trademark hockey mask and machete, very few have lived to tell the tale of their encounter with one of the most terrifying slashers to ever appear on the silver screen. His body count is in the triple digits! From screen to screen, Jason has gone from the cineplex to your TV and computer by way of interactive media. Unlike the campy-ness of Freddy or more focussed kills of Michael, Jason is by far the scariest of his iconic counterparts. My friend Dani is a diehard Jason girl, while I am Freddy and our friend Derek is Leatherface. Let’s take a stab at exploring why this franchise continues to be a favorite! For my full retrospective review, click HERE!

Movie 21 (10/20)

Slumber Party Massacre (1982). Upon several recommendations from podcasters that I follow, I added this to my 31 Horror Movies this month. Slumber Party Massacre knows precisely what it is–a B-movie slasher–it wastes no time in getting to the kills. Because this movie comes on the heels of Halloween and Friday the 13th, there are clearly shots and even sequences taken from those movies. Despite borrowing from those two iconic slasher films, the one key element that it did not borrow is the masked villain. Unfortunately, the fact that our killer did not wear a mask nor costume, disappointed me. I did not find him terrifying, in the same way I do Michael, Jason, and Freddy. However, in the third act of the movie, the killer speaks, and he does become quite frightening. Unlike the classic villains I’ve mentioned that are more conventionally scary, this killer is incredibly creepy. It didn’t take long for movies to take on the tropes established in Halloween and Friday the 13th, this film came out just two years after we were first introduced to Camp Crystal Lake and Haddonfield, IL and two years before we would meet my personal favorite horror icon Freddy. The producers, director, and writer of Slumber Party Massacre knew precisely how to get teenagers and 20-30-somethings into the movie theatre, and capitalized on it. With a run time of little more than an hour, it doesn’t try too hard to develop the characters or spend time on subtext or the hero’s journey, it just provides audiences with funny dialogue, over-the-top acting, and an all around fun popcorn horror movie. It plays the camp card close to hokey without ever crossing that line. The movie takes itself seriously enough to enjoy the murder and mayhem without it feeling like a colossal joke. Truth is, there is a quite the degree of social commentary on sex and gender roles. And that drill is totally a phallic symbol. Interestingly, Slumber Party Massacre was written, produced, and directed by women! So yes Mr. Blum, there are female directors interested in the horror genre out there!

Movie 22 (10/20)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)1, 2 Freddy’s coming for you; 3, 4 better lock your door, 5, 6 grab your crucifix, 7, 8 gonna stay up late, 9, 10 never sleep again. If that jingle still sends chills down your spine, you’re not alone. My favorite horror icon is Freddy Krueger. Unlike with other slasher icons who hide behind masks and never speak, I consider Freddy to be the most terrifying because he can talk to his victims and attack you in your sleep–a time in which you are most vulnerable. Moreover, dreams are a private time and he invades that sacred space. Robert Englund is synonymous with Freddy because we get to appreciate the actor’s performance, charisma, and enthusiasm as he is not hidden by a mask. Writer-director Wes Craven’s nightmare on screen has been terrifying audiences for more than 30yrs. Inspired by a series of articles in the LA Times; three small articles about men from Southeast Asia, who were from immigrant families, who died in the middle of nightmares—and the paper never correlated them, never said, ‘Hey, we’ve had another story like this.” From that short series of articles came the movie (turned franchise) that we know and love today. But there is so much more to NoES than the fact it was inspired by truly unexplained deaths during nightmares. On the surface, it appears that the only motivation of Freddy’s kills and trauma-inducing actions is revenge–plain and simple. After all, he was burned alive by the parents of the Elm Street teens. And so he takes his revenge out on the teens and occasionally their parents. Albeit revenge is a classic motivator, it lacks substance; however, there is much more to Freddy than revenge. What truly separates classic Englund Freddy from remake Freddy and from Michael and Jason is his sick commitment to showmanship. It’s just about the kills, it’s about putting on a show for his own amusement. I’ve written before that the horror genre is the best genre for creatively exploring the human condition, questioning standards and observations, providing different perspectives on sociologically, exploring psychology, heteronormativity, and more, often in terrifying ways to get you to think, and NoES certainly gives us lots of material to talk about. At its core, NoES provides ample opportunity to discuss the distinction between dreams and real life, manifesting in the actions of the teens in the film; furthermore, the events of the film transgress the boundary between imagination and reality that provocatively toy with the audience’s perceptions of the real and imagined. It’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone on crack. For my full retrospective, click HERE.

Movie 24 (10/22)

Alien (1979). “This. Is. Alien. You are with. Sigourney Weaver. Aboard the space ship Nostromo. Caution. The a-rea you are entering is extremely dan-ger-ous.” If you get the reference, then we are kindred theme park and horror spirits! Ridley Scott’s science-fiction horror masterpiece that convinced you that “in space, no one can hear you scream” is still the definitive science-fiction/space horror film after reinventing what we had in the 1950/60s. Sitting between Halloween and Friday the 13th, this film came as a surprise for the horror genre because it countered the direction that the horror genre was going by reimagining the emerging slasher genre in a setting that is more terrifying and limiting than a house or town in which a serial killer is slaughtering teenagers. Just 10 years after the Apollo moon landing, this film takes on characteristics of that which is frightening about this new frontier that we are exploring. What if there is a killing machine monster out there? Scary stuff. Beyond taking the horror genre into space and integrating some of the psychological horror and slasher elements outlined in PsychoHalloween, and others, Scott’s Alien also provided horror audiences with a new type of final girl, social commentary on gender roles, heteronormativity, and human sexuality. Much like the Freudian components of Hitchcock’s Psycho, this horror film also explores the deep fears and desires that are often suppressed by the subconscious. Furthermore, the film also explores the fears associated with child birth by “impregnating” men resulting in body horror trauma. The counterarguments to heteronormativity is manifested in Ellen Ripley as an androgynous female who behaves in a very masculine way, the film provides an opportunity to talk about gender roles. Like Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Ridley is also someone who is equal parts female and male. In fact, you could argue that she takes on more masculine characteristics as the narrative plays. This playing with the roles of men, women, and their respective bodies and minds can be realized when viewing the character of the xenomorph as the “monstrous feminine.” The monstrous-feminine is a psychological construction generated by male anxieties about the female body and sexuality. Scott’s Alien depicts the maternal body as monstrous. More specifically, the film repeatedly examines the scene of birth or origin. Interestingly, there are three different representations of the concept of birth in the film. In terms of the production design, Alien can be likened to a gothic horror set in space. Scott’s brilliant design conveys to the audience the extreme isolation and claustrophobia. There is also an fascinating dichotomy in the worlds that are represented in this film by pitting the mechanization and technology of the organization for which our explorers work and the monstrous origin world of the alien, which we learn more about (whether you like the films or not in the prequels). In case you’re wondering, my quote at the beginning was taken from the former Great Movie Ride attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Movie 25 (10/23)

Pet Sematary (1989). “Sometimes dead is better.” Finishing out my decade of 1970s/80s slashers and possessions that play around with the concepts of internal and external monsters, morality, sex, heteronormativity, and even grief, is the terrifying classic Pet Sematary based on the best-selling Stephen King novel. From the moment the movie opens with shots of a cemetery underscored by an incredibly creepy song, you know that you are in for a horrifying experience that will pit you face to face with death and grief. In addition to the highly effective imagery and song setting the atmosphere of dread that instantly creates this ominous unsettling feeling, there are several shots of the fast-moving semi-trucks that foreshadow the infamous tragic event plunging the characters into crisis. For some reason, this film seems to get lost in horror conversations (that is until more recently with the trailer of the 2019 remake). Fortunately, there appears to be a resurgence in the popularity of the original, so naturally I rewatched it for #AllTheHorror this month. At it’s core, this film deals with the tragic loss of a child and juxtaposes that against the return of that same child. Return of the repressed, or uncanny as defined by Sigmund Freud. Credit to the success of this film goes to King and Mary Lambert–see Mr. Blum–a female horror director). Not to mention the fantastic cast including Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne). Horror movies often creatively (and sometimes viscerally) deal with societal taboos. And that practice is quite evident in this film’s depiction of how parents handle the concept of death around their kids. Like many parents, Rachel (Denise Crosby–yes StarTrek TNG) avoids the topic around her children. In order to make true on the promise to protect the kids and cat, this avoidance of death leads Louis to his eventual misguided decision to test the powers of the ancient pet cemetery. Another element that is often overlooked is the angelic/demonic dichotomy between Pascow, the good angel, and Jud, the bad angel (or demon). Both are practically sitting on the shoulders of Louis, directing him what to do. Is there anything more terrifying than a baby on a slaughterous rampage? With only a little violence and gore (compared to the rest of the movie), Lambert was able to craft a nightmare-inducing horror film that forced us to face the concept of death.

Movie 26 (10/28)

Suspiria (1977). In preparation for the remake of the Dario Argento visual horror masterpiece, I watched the original with my cinephile friend and penpal in Germany. So much to love here! It’s hard to know even where to begin. From the angles, framing, and colors, I knew from the opening scene that I was in store for a masterful work of art. Not to mention that haunting score! While I’ve long thought that the beginning to Scream was one of the most intense and brilliant horror film openings, I am now left with Suspiria having the most intense opening! It was a non-stop rollercoaster that was bloody and beautiful. While American 70s horror contained far more off screen violence than on, this film broke the mold and gave us closeups of stabbings and plate glass window slicing and more. It was shocking and mesmerizing. There is a deeply unnerving experience that leaves an impact that remains with you for the rest of the movie. Stylistically, Argento displays a keen eye and penchant for long, sustained shots that truly immerses the audience into the story. Where this film lacks plot–and it does–it makes up for in Salvador Dali surreal moments that evoke heightened senses through hyper-sensitive sequences of visual horror. It’s not enough to attempt to capture into the words the film as it is more of an experience than coherent narrative. Argento’s use of deep primary colors and sharp angles provides the film with this almost hallucinatory effect that is reinforced by the pioneering electronic score by himself and performed by the electronica band Goblin. One of the things that I picked up on while watching this movie was the connection to German expressionism. While it was certainly instrumental in the development of the American horror film, the production design and lighting largely became less pronounce in more modern movies. However, this Italian horror film still holds true to the designs and lighting that greatly shaped the horror films we love today.

Fifth group 90s horror (rise of psychological and meta horror, horror in everyday situations, and nightmares manifested)

Movie 27 (10/28)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991). “Good evening, Clarice.” How many of you have never thought of fava beans and chianti in the same way since then? Quite literally inventing a new genre that combines elements of horror, suspense, and crime to create the crime thriller, The Silence of the Lambs remains the motion picture that typifies the genre. More than 27 years later, Silence still holds up and continues to terrify audiences today. Whereas this iconic film may not be considered horror, by today’s understanding and expectation by many, it was certainly widely considered horror when it was released in 1991. A sleepy success, I might add. Essentially, Silence is an indie film that flew in under the radar but soon grew to be immensely popular and critically acclaimed. Silence is also one of only three films to win “the big five” Academy Awards (picture, director, lead actor, lead actress, and screenplay). This, in and of itself, serves as demonstrable evidence that The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most influential and profound films of all time–across all genres. Furthermore, there is not one single moment that I would change because it is cinematically perfect just the way it is. It is arguably a dark crime-thriller, but it is also very much a horror film. When asked which category I put it in, I respond with horror. Why? Because there is certainly intent to horrify audiences during particular scenes in the film; whereas, a crime-thriller tends to not overly concern itself with the intent to horrify. The intent to horrify is what defines it as a horror film first and crime-thriller as a very close second. Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs remains one of the most iconic films in cinema history and will continue to have an evergreen shelf-life. It’s a multidimensional motion picture that frightens and intrigues. It is an arthouse film that achieved commercial success. From the buildup to the introduction of Dr. Lecter to the trademark moth cocoon in the throat of the original victim. Furthermore, Demme continues to drive up the suspense and tension that create frightening thoughts and imagery through the use of interiors and exteriors of houses and buildings that represent the minds of characters (i.e. Buffalo Bill’s house and lair). We continue to seek this film out for its ability to manipulate our minds and eyes through strategic and artistic use of story and image. And you know what? We love these characters. We like and can identify with Clarice, have an unconventional respect and even like Dr. Lecter, and are completely intrigued and disgusted by Buffalo Bill.

Movie 28 (10/29)

Misery (1990). Do your ankles still hurt when you think of this film? Following the successful adaptation of Pet Sematary, the next book to receive a screen translation is the terrifying Misery. Starring Kathy Bates, James Caan, with a supporting role by the incomparable Lauren Bacall, this film reminds me of a King film directed by Hitchcock. But, it’s not directed by Hitch; it’s directed by Rob Reiner whom also directed the wildly successful and definitive coming of age film Stand By Me. Clearly, Reiner studied Alfred Hitchcock’s methods for shooting a thriller. Evidence of this tone is witnessed in the framing, character blocking, and lingering shots. In fact, I argue that if you were to replace Reiner’s name with Hitchcock’s, it would be easy to convince (non cinephile’s) that it was in fact directed by the Master of Suspense. Reiner provides audiences with one of the most iconic horror films from the 90s that holds up incredibly well. Even with the typewriter, the sheer terror that Caan’s character of Paul Sheldon felt as he was kept prisoner by his sadistic No.1 fan Annie Wilkes (Bates). One of the biggest differences between the book and movie is the famous and painful hobbling scene. The book depicts Annie chopping off one of Paul’s feet versus the crippling of the ankles in the movie. I think this was a good choice because I feel strongly that this sledgehammer scene is far more painful than the former. I mean, every time I see a sledgehammer, I am reminded of this scene even to this day. Misery also takes a minimalistic approach to the American horror film, much in the same way Hitch crafted a brilliant suspense film in Dial M for Murder. Much like the Hitch classic, Reiner’s Misery is also one that largely takes place in one location (only flanked by quick moments in others). The combination of truly appalling, gut wrenching, darkly humorous, and sadistically amusing nature of this film enables it to hold up incredibly well and boasts one of the single most horrific scenes in horror cinema history.

Movie 29 (10/29)

New Nightmare (1994). Before “meta horror” became commonplace to the point that the once innovative concept has become all too cliche, Wes Craven wrote and directed his triumphant return to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (although, he did co-write Dream Warriors). Made, not only for horror fans but also for general horror audiences, New Nightmare is a horror film within a horror film that successfully dances the line between reality and fantasy. One can easily liken that to the very character of Freddy Krueger who exists in our dreams but can inflect real pain. A fascinating parallel! Craven’s revolutionary approach to one of the most iconic franchises in horror history begs the question asked of horror filmmakers whether the effects of the diegesis on screen cross over into the real world, affecting the actions and thoughts of people who love to watch horror films. Beyond the meta nature of the plot of New Nightmare, there is also a self-reflexive element to the plot because the story, lore, and movies of Freddy loops back on itself by confronting the creators of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Wes, Robert “Bob” Shaye, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, and even future horror star Lin Shaye (Robert’s sister) are all playing themselves, and even referencing the Nightmare movies in the same way we do. Heather even references all the movies in the franchise, not just the one’s she’s in. While other franchises force a reboot or revival in order to bring back an iconic horror icon–by way of just chalking the return up to being a superhuman, resurrected, or supernatural with little to no reasoning–New Nightmare provides evidence (albeit supernatural) for why more Freddy films need to be made. Therefore, Freddy will appear in one more movie (two more, if you count this one). One more, because we do not count the 2010 remake (it does not exist). While few will dispute that the original A Nightmare on Elm Street is the best, it is quite possible that this self-reflexive entry is the second best. During graduate school, when studying horror films, I used Carol Clover’s pleasurable unpleasure and Freud’s uncanny often when exploring the subtext and themes of horror. Both of these theoretical approaches to reading and understanding horror films are clearly visible in this brilliant story. We get pleasure out of and attracted to that which should repulse us. Therefore, we do not want Freddy to be dead. In many ways, we need Freddy to live, and New Nightmare brings Freddy back for an encore in the present story and Freddy vs Jason. Of course, we’ve had the first appearance of Robert Englund as Freddy in last week’s Halloween episode of The Goldbergs and there is massive social media support for Englund to play Freddy one last time.

Movie 30 (10/30)

Scream (1996). What’s your favorite scary movie? Master of Horror Wes Craven redefined meta horror with what many argue is the definitive example Scream. Although I prefer New Nightmare to Scream, there is no doubt that Scream is the more popular and truly more meta horror film that not only comments on itself but the slasher genre in general. And I also really like Scream. If for no other reason than the most brilliant, shocking opening to a horror movie ever. Craven took what Hitch pioneered in Psycho and amped up the speed at which a popular actress is killed. Whereas Marion Crane was killed off within the first act. Craven kills off American darling Drew Barrymore in the prologue of the film! Still to this day, the opening scene in Scream is still the most terrifying opening ever. However, after recently watching Suspiria for the first time, I’d like to compare the two in the future to see which is more frightening and effective. With the general public, let alone horror fans, becoming all too knowledgable of the rules of horror films thus possessing the ability to predict the outcome and plot turning points, Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven crafted a horror ilm to change the rules by using them as a plot device to completely deconstruct the American horror film slasher genre. By killing off Drew Barrymore at the beginning, this communicated to the audience that all bets are off. But more than a satirical horror film, this film is equally scary. Whereas Scary Movie (the original title to Scream) would do similar things but through parody, slapstick and dark comedy, Scream maintains a serious tone throughout the film and never falls into parody. This serious approach is one of the reasons why this innovative film performed incredibly well then and still holds up today. Highly entertaining! This film holds your attention from beginning to end through an incredibly well-developed plot, complex characters, and conflict driven by the actions of the characters. This plot is simple–brilliant–but simple. By relying upon the characters to carry the story, the movie contains more subtext and substance than many others. When you have a character-driven plot, you need solid actors to bring it to life. And all the performances by the principal characters are absolutely perfect for the film. Everyone is so committed to their respective characters. Like bookends, the ending and beginning answer one another.Just as shockingly intense the opening scene is, the climax of the film is surprisingly noteworthy as well, and threw audiences for a loop as it abandons more conventional endings.

Movie 31 (10/30)

Hocus Pocus (1993).

SISTA’S! Tis time! Originally, I was planning to see the new Suspiria on Halloween night, but when I got to the one cinema that was showing it, it was sold out. So, I decided to write up my 31st review on Hocus Pocus, which I saw on Halloween Eve. I am so glad that Disney decided to release my favorite Disney Halloween movie back in cinemas for a limited run in celebration of this cult classic’s 25th anniversary. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think a Halloween season goes by that I do not watch this incredibly funny movie. The first time I saw it, I was in late elementary or early middle school; and ever since then, I’ve watched it every year (and often in April too, because it’s halfway to Halloween). Receiving top billing for this Disney classic is the Divine Miss M Bette Midler as Winnifred Sanderson! Supporting Midler is the endearing Kathy Najimy as Mary and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah. When the film was released in summer of 1993, it was pretty much panned by most of the critics. I’m still baffled why Disney chose to release this 100% Halloween movie in the middle of the same summer that Jurassic Park was released. Despite the negative reviews, this simple film may have first been perceived as an ugly ducking, but over the years, it has become a beautiful swan! It found its place quickly amongst the Disney and LGBTQ communities. I am hard pressed to find a member of either community that does not like the film except for Brock of Cocktail Party Massacre who HATES this film. At the end of the day, this is a FUN, magical film! There is literally nothing that I do not like about it. I even dressed as Winnie a few Halloweens ago and received rave reviews. In many ways, our three witches can be viewed as drag queens, and perhaps that’s why these characters resonate with the queer community. The practical effects are great. And I don’t mean great in that the effects in that they were oh so realistic. But they were FUN, they were creative, they were believable within the world that director Kenny Ortega created on screen. This film knew that it was campy, and it went full camp! I love it. Keeping it entertaining and sexy, there is physical comedy, witty humor, two incredible cameos from TV/film royalty and material for kids and adults. And that “I Put a Spell on You” number is among my favorite Disney songs. I had the phenomenal opportunity to hear Bette Midler perform that song in her Divine Intervention concert tour in 2015 tribute to Hocus Pocus. Hearing that song live, in full costume, is a memory that I will have for a lifetime.

Here’s to the 31 horror/Halloween movies that I rewatched or watched for the first time during October. Next year, I will begin with the mid 90s and work my way to present day.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa and works in creative services in live themed entertainment. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Jurassic Park” (1993), Sci-Fi Horror NOT Action-Adventure

In honor of Jurassic Park‘s 25th Anniversary, I want to revisit why the film works so incredibly well, and never gets old. Just like Dr. Alan Grant states at the beginning of the film, “raptors have far more in common with present day birds than they do with reptiles,” that same analogy can be drawn with the original Jurassic Park and its proximity to horror compared to action-adventure. Borrowing from Dr. Grant, the original Jurassic Park has far more in common with scifi-horror than it does with action-adventure, hence why it has held up over the years and continues to be a favorite film for many cinephiles and fans alike. While all the sequels, including Jurassic World are far more action-adventure than the original, Jurassic Park can be likened to Ridley Scott’s Alien. The latter is a quintessential space scifi-horror with action-adventure sequels just like the former. And like Jurassic Park, the original Alien is considered far superior to that of the sequels. But why is this? There are many reasons from script to director to cinematography; but at the end of the day, it’s the fact that both these critically acclaimed and admired films have their respective roots in the American horror film and not action-adventure movies. More so than any other genre, horror is (1) uniquely American and (2) the most time tested, given it can trace its roots back to the 1890s and was perfected by Universal Pictures in the 1920s and 30s.

So what separates Jurassic Park from the sequels? Both have life-threatening dinosaurs, both have action, both have adventure, etc. But, only the original carries with it social commentary, rich subtext, and well-developed themes told through a brilliant combination of horrific frights and believable sciences taking place within a world of fiction grounded in reality. Furthermore, the focus in both Jurassic Park and Alien is largely on the drama between the characters and the oppositional forces in the film. The sequels in both franchises place far less emphasis on well-developed conflict and drama, and instead sacrifice those golden elements of cinematic storytelling for high-concept CGI-filled adventure movies with lots of dinosaurs or aliens. The proliferation of gimmicks and effects is often used to hide a weak story. Fortunately, Jurassic Park provides audiences with a strong plot told through exceptional cinematic storytelling.

Jurassic Park‘s screenplay benefitted from being penned by the award-winning author Michael Crichton who also wrote the novel by the same name. Often times, when the author of the novel also writes the screenplay, the screenplay forms a stronger foundation upon which the technical elements can be build. A more recent example of a brilliant screenplay adaptation of a novel is Gone Girl, the author of the novel was the screenwriter. Although a screenplay is visually driven whereas a novel is internally driven, when a novelist with a penchant for visual storytelling writes the screenplay for the movie adaptation, the screenplay tends to contain better developed characters, strong subtext, effective conflict, and excellent dialogue. Crichton created incredibly memorable characters who each spoke with their own voice. Casting the right actors to portray the characters is obviously important–and the cast for Jurassic Park is exemplary–but even before the actor steps into the character’s shoes, the character has to be created. Each character in Jurassic Park possesses unique traits, strengths, weaknesses, dialect, and behaviors. Instead of the conflict being arbitrary, the conflict develops through the interpersonal relationships between the characters and the relationship between the characters and the opposition–human and nature.

I was in elementary school when the movie hit theatres in the summer of 1993; and although under 13, my parents allowed me to go see the movie. It was my first PG-13 film, and what an experience! Not unlike Dr. Grant’s reaction to his first encounter with a dinosaur in the film, my reaction to Spielberg’s masterpiece was eyes-wide-open, mouth gaping wide, and racing endorphins. And then comes the macabre contrast in Acts II and III. “Ooo, ahh–that’s how it begins, and then there’s running and screaming” (Dr. Ian Malcolm, The Lost World). Aptly stated. The opening scene hooks the audience with a disaster, but does not reveal much about the dinosaur in the secured transport–brilliant. Because this scene did not show a dinosaur, the audience’s curiosity is pricked which creates an eagerness to see a dinosaur and a degree of nervousness or apprehension accompanying that curiosity. We wanted to see more. If you’re familiar with Hitchcock’s bomb theory, he states “you must never let the bomb go off.” More than simply shock audiences with the death of that employee at the beginning of the movie, this scene serves as information more than a glimpse at that which would be horrific in real life. This delay of seeing a dinosaur forces the audiences to pay more attention to the characters, dialogue, and conflict than looking for the next dino. Furthermore, the delay in seeing a dinosaur, perfectly setup audiences for the grand reveal on the way from the helipad to the Visitors Center. Interestingly, if you add up all the screen time that dinosaurs receive in the film, you’ll find that they are only on screen for about 20-minutes. Just like Hitchcock transferred the terror from the screen into the minds of the audience after the Psycho “shower scene,” Crichton and Spielberg did the same with Jurassic Park.

It’s the soft introduction to the man-made dinosaurs that makes the horror of the dinosaurs feel so much more intense later on in the film–and make you scream! In terms of the type of science-fiction horror film Jurassic Park could be classified as, it shares many commonalities with man vs nature and man vs technology horror films. Crichton is known for his believable science within his works of fiction. It is obvious that genetics and paleontology were researched enough to use real, hard science to inspire a fictional science that feels just out of reach of the current trends in the science, technology, and engineering fields. Pair that with horror, and you have a solid cinematic film. The brilliance of horror films is how they can creatively comment on or provide a different perfective on a anthropological or psychological observation; moreover, it can be helpful when exploring philosophical questions. And these topics are visually explored through the movie and externalize the themes. One area that separates popcorn action-adventure movies from horror films is the cultural significance of the subtext and themes. Typically, action adventure movies do not carry with them social commentary nor significantly pull on our emotions and tap into our most primal fears. Jurassic Park contains all of this. There is something about horror films that beckons the audiences to find enjoyment in, that which in real life, would not be enjoyable—and not only see it once, but repeat it. And furthermore, find the unfamiliar and grotesque fascinating to behold as what should remain hidden comes to light. Certainly the dinosaurs in the movie should have remained “extinct,” but were brought back to life and engaged in violence in which we find enjoyment. 

Some of the themes found in Jurassic Park that are told through the visceral horror and tense dramatic moments are: man vs nature, foolishness and folly, greed, wisdom vs knowledge, man vs technology, and parenting. Why don’t the Jurassic films have the chache that the original does? You try to find to find rich themes such as these in the subsequent films. They don’t exist. Why? Because it is far more difficult to explore what it means to be human and social constructs in a scifi action movie than in scifi horror. An action movie would be ill-equipped to tackle questions of a philosophical nature because the focus is largely on the action itself and not necessarily the characters, and almost never the subtext and theme. For an action film to delve into that which causes the film to take on an intellectual nature, it would lose the attention of those who simply want a good popcorn movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are excellent action-adventure movies that contribute to the world of cinema in exceptional ways. Indiana Jones Raiders, Doom, and Last Crusade do that. Obviously, the inability to reconcile nature’s resistance to control is one of the most important themes of Jurassic Park. Dr. Ian Malcolm tells the group that “life finds a way,” and it immediately becomes the film’s mantra (and a quotable line), true in every demonstrable, measurable way; the dinosaurs survive outside their design and engineering, the lost children survive with the help of a kid-averted paleontologist who discovers his parental side, humanity survives despite meddling in the natural order of things by playing God because that’s what we do–we survive. Every character in the film either understands or is reminded of this–some of them, by force when it’s too late–through the course of events.

Jurassic Park uses horror film techniques in a brilliant fashion to force its audience into considering the larger philosophical questions mentioned in the previous paragraph. It reinforces those questions with clever parallels: Dr Grant’s way of paleontology is about to go “extinct” due to the rise of computer technology (the line “don’t you mean extinct” came from a comment behind-the-scenes regarding CGI encroaching upon animatronics, puppetry, and special effects); the power of the natural world is exponentially magnified when the park’s technology failure is combined with a disastrous tropical storm; money causes literally every ill in the film, even when it is being used for supposedly admirable purposes; and “you were so pre-occupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.” The inability to reconcile nature’s resistance to control is one of the most important themes of the film, of course. Ian Malcolm tells the group that “life finds a way,” and it abruptly becomes the tale’s rallying cry, true in every conceivable way; the dinosaurs survive outside their engineering, the lost children survive with the help of a paleontologist who discovers his paternal side, humanity survives despite its meddling because it’s what we do. Every character in the film either understands this, or is made to by the course of events.

Beyond exploring themes, it’s the intent of the film that determines whether is a thriller (suspense) or horror film. The films speak for themselves. If the intent is to horrify, then it’s a horror film; if the intent is to thrill, then it is a thriller. In all fairness, Jurassic Park is borderline; but it’s the level of shock, fear, and dread that may just be enough to tip the scale toward horror instead of thriller, and certainly evidence enough to prove that it is NOT simply a dark action-adventure movie. Much like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Scott’s Alien, Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is also an intellectual film. Whereas an action-adventure movie would have provided audiences with a few minutes collectively of some surface-level chit-chat above ethics in order to technically give the film a theme, Jurassic Park provides audiences with an entire film about ethics that will have them talking about the various dilemmas and challenges facing the characters throughout the film. It’s brilliant! And quite the rarity these days. The hand of Spielberg’s penchant for horror (Jaws and Poltergeist) is seen in Jurassic Park from requesting that Crichton rewrite the original screenplay to be more cinematic and less internally driven because Spielberg desired to take the novel and adapt it to screen as a Jaws on land. If his intent was to make a sequel to Jaws, then we have to conclude that his intention was to horrify audiences in some measurable amount.

With a film as dynamic as Jurassic Park, it may be nearly impossible to prove that it is a horror film at its roots; but, the body of information provided in this article help to support the thesis that it is a horror film based upon the intention, conflict, themes, and visceral terror. “Well, there is it.”

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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