“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” horror movie review

Everyone loves a good ghost story, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has several ones that remind me of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? on steroids! Don’t let the August release date fool you, this is a surpassingly frightening horror movie! It takes the very practice of passing along scary stories generation to generation, and explores the far reaching effects that the power of story has in a manner that it as insightful as it is visually terrifying. Directed by Andre Ovredal with a superlative screenwriting and story team including Guillermo del Toro, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark relies upon a more classical approach to a horror movie by building upon old fashioned ghost stories. You know, the kind that you sit around the camp fire or on the floor of your childhood sleepover and tell one another. These are stories that have been shared and passed down so prolifically that they feel alive. Ghost stories are such a part of our childhood and teenage years, and this film explores the idea of these stories coming to life. A terrifying prospect. Despite the one-dimensional characters, this movie keeps the audience engaged because of the incredibly fun plot and nightmarish visuals. And no, the end of the movie is not tied up with a nice little bow. Traditional narratives follow: order–>disorder–>order again, but horror often takes on an order–>disorder–>order–>disorder path. While there are elements in this movie that may predispose you to thinking that it’s an anthology like Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat, it is one linear narrative. Scary Stories is  thoughtful horror movie that is a throwback to the tales of old, when hauntingly spooky was more important than grisly gore.

Pennsylvania 1968 on Halloween, and change is blowing in the wind…but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley, where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion, on the edge of town, that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories she passed along to children whom would talk to her through the wall of her foreboding mansion. In addition to passing down the stories orally, she wrote them down in book that truly immerses the reader into the terrifying plot. When a group of teenagers accidentally stumbles onto Sarah’s book of scary stories to tell in the dark, they realize that these stories are become all too real, and they find themselves strapped in the pages of these stories that transcend time and reality.

On one hand, this movie may appear overly generic to the casual observer, given the chief elements that make up the story. You have a group of misfit teens in small town middle America, lots of period nostalgia (that is thankfully not even more of the already proliferated 80s), a cursed object that torments its readers, and a haunted house. Everything that a writer needs to create a forgettable horror movie that goes directly to streaming services is here. But that is where you would be wrong to presume it is just another generic haunted house movie. The premise may not be exuding originality but the expression of the premise is. Combine the original expression of a plot template with the stunning visuals that we’ve come to expect from the del Toro brand, and you have one fantastic horror movie. Clearly exhibited in each and every scene, there are many signs that this movie was built by writers and a director who cares about the story and the audience experience. The degree to which this haunted house movie works for audiences may one day be seen in Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. So many visual elements in this movie lend it to a haunted house (definitely more than the upcoming Us haunted house). Even if you did not grow up reading the Scary Stories books, you probably read Goosebumps or watch the TV version of the former or Are You Afraid of the Dark? and that is all you need to know or be familiar with. Go in with a love of good old-fashioned ghost stories, and you will have a fun time.

This is the second gateway horror movie that we have seen in the last couple years. Last year, we had The House with a Clock in its Walls, which worked as a gateway horror movie (albeit less so than this one). Ever since the TV shows referenced earlier went off the air, there has been a need for PG and PG-13 horror for younger audiences that also appeals to adults. Most of the horror movies over the last couple of decades have large been aimed at older teens and adults. The trick is to write a story that is appropriate enough for general 12-17 viewers, but still contain the macabre elements that 18+ viewers want to see. And that doesn’t mean gore, it means a thoughtful approach to crafting a fun horror movie that genuinely frightens you. Spooky atmospheres, ghostly apparitions, and tormented characters have been a staple of the American horror film from the days of Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera. But in recent years, haunting production design and memorable monsters have taken backseat to schlock fests. This movie seeks to bring back the old fashioned haunted house ghost movie to foster an appetite in young audiences for the fantastic world of horror.

The central character and our character of opposition are two opposite sides of the same coin. Driving their decisions is a love of storytelling and family issues. Of course the familial issues differ greatly, but they complement one another nicely. When developing central and opposition characters, it’s important for the screenwriter to remember that often both characters need to share some common traits, and even common goals, but the difference is in how that desire to achieve the goal is expressed through action. There appears to be ab attempts by the movie to provide opportunities for the characters and plot to comment on the society and politics, but it’s never fully developed. Underscoring many of the scenes in the film is the 1968 presidential election and the controversial Vietnam War. I feel that the socio=political elements were not used as effectively as they could have been, so it would have been better just to leave them out as those moments don’t add anything to the overall story.

The power of story. It was Cecil B. DeMille who stated that the “greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling,” and Scary Stories takes its cue from the timeless words from a  Hollywood great. Films were always about breaking ground in visual technical marvel, the almost oxymoronic photorealistic animation, or grisly violence; they were about telling stories. Not unlike the ones that got orally passed down. And these stories helped to shape generations of current and future storytellers. When you tell a story enough, it begins to have a life of its own, there is a place for some evil to be contained as we creatively explore the human condition, sexuality, gender roles, faith, psychology, and sociology through the American horror film. We already have a movie about what happens when the stories die (see my article on Wes Craven’s New Nightmare), so this one takes the approach of what happens when you steel someone’s storybook but pairs that with the healing power of storytelling. To get into how and why would reveal too much about the showdown of the movie, and I don’t want to spoil it for you. At the end of the movie, you are left with wondering about the stories that you have passed down, and power to terrify or to heal that comes along with them. You may even find yourself wanting to get a group of friends together to tell ghost stories.

If you love a good ghost story, then you definitely want to catch this while in theatres to truly appreciate and experience the nightmarish visuals of the monsters and the beauty of the production design. Get into the Halloween spirit a little early with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as you enjoy a throwback to a more classical approach to the American horror film.

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 and teaches high school TV/Film production. 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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“Black Christmas” full horror film review

Move over Ralphie for Bob Clark’s original Christmas story. Released in 1974 and predating John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years, Clark’s Black Christmas is actually the the first modern slasher film. In fact, many have argued that Carpenter’s iconic holiday horror film, that made Michael Myers a household name, is an unofficial sequel to Black Christmas. Bob Clark laid the groundwork for Michael to terrorize Haddonfield; but, both Black Christmas and Halloween along with 1979’s When a Stranger Calls collectively created the foundation upon which the 1980s slashers were built. Although I had heard of this film prior to this year, I did not make time to watch it until many of my podcast friends talked about it. So, for the weekly film screening with my cinephile penpal a couple of weeks ago. Originally, I had not intended to review it since so many others have covered it this Christmas season; however, after being encouraged to review it by a few of my friends in the #PodernFamily community, I’m going to talk about my opinions on this film. In short, it is one of the most terrifying horror films that I have ever watched. And it’s not because it’s particularly violent or gory, but because of its incredibly unsettling atmosphere caused by the mysterious, vulgar phone calls and the creepy POV of the slasher entering the sorority house during the Christmas party. That bit of dramatic irony paired with the sequence of disturbing events, work together to generate nightmare-inducing thoughts and imagery in the mind of the audience.

Now for the IMDb summary before we dive deeper! As winter break begins, a group of sorority sisters, including Jess (Olivia Hussey) and the often inebriated Barb (Margot Kidder), begin to receive anonymous, lascivious phone calls. Initially, Barb eggs the caller on, but stops when he responds threateningly. Soon, Barb’s friend Claire (Lynne Griffin) goes missing from the sorority house, and a local adolescent girl is murdered, leading the girls to suspect a serial killer is on the loose. But no one realizes just how near the culprit is.

The first moment in the movie to truly catch my attention was the POV of the serial killer. Before watching this, I was under the impression that the first horror film to open with a POV in this fashion was Carpenter’s Halloween. It was at that moment that I looked up the release year and shocked to find that Black Christmas was released four years prior. The unnerving atmosphere of dread is generated in part by the dramatic irony of the killer being in the house and the vulgar mysterious phone calls that consistently plague the sorority girls. Although there are scenes that take place outside of the house, the horrific events largely take place inside a house. A house–more specifically–a home–where you should be and feel safe. The invasion, the penetration of safety is a terrifying prospect for anyone who has ever walked into their home alone wondering if someone may be there. The idea that someone may be in your house sticks with you long after the movie ends. And that is the power of the unnerving horror of Black Christmas. I argue that the level of terror is higher in this movie than Halloween because of just when this story takes place. Both Halloween and Black Christmas concern themselves with a serial killer sneaking inside the home unbeknownst to the owners but Black Christmas takes place at the time of year that we should feel the warmest and safest. It’s that stark contrast between the magic of Christmas and the horror befalling the sorority house that impacts us more than the events in Haddonfield on Halloween. Halloween is a time that we expect to be scared, whereas Christmas is a time that we expect to be warm and safe.

Unlike the merciless or meta-kills of Jason or Freddy, the killer only known as Billy specializes in psychological horror. Although there is more to Jason than just killing teens and college students, he essentially seeks to rack up as many kills as possible. Much in the same way, Freddy enjoys increasing his kill count too. However, Billy stands in contrast because he is not merely concerned with racking up a body count as he is truly terrifying the girls and their house mom. The actions of Billy are a vehicle for the fears of the audience. His victims and methods of execution, if you will, comment on the character types that he’s going after. Moreover, the beauty of Billy’s true identity remaining mysterious is that he can be whomever you want him to be. Furthermore, the victims can be whomever you want them to be. It’s the type of horror film that provides the audience with the ability to place themselves in the shoes of the killer. But Billy isn’t the only star of the film, we spend sufficient time with each of the characters to understand their personalities and desires. This makes them more than just eye candy for Billy or the audience. We can empathize with each of the victims and those with him they have friendships or a relationship. There are few moments that we get to see Billy. For the most part, we are always looking through Billy’s eyes. Billy has nothing distinct about him. No motive, mask, backstory, proprietary weapon–nothing. And it works so incredibly well! It’s this lack of anything in particular that would make him out to be someone unique that terrifies us. He can literally be anyone who is simply terrifying these girls because “they were home” (where have we heard that before?) or they left the door unlocked or a window open.

Hitchcock stated stated on more than one occasion that (and I am paraphrasing) there is no greater fear than that of an opened door. Bob Clark takes a queue from Hitch in that he relies heavily upon that which in unseen or unknown. Relying upon that which is unseen forces the audience to engage the film on a personal level by creating scenarios for the violence off screen. Another quote of Hitchcock is related to Clark’s approach in this film, “always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” And there are plenty of scenes in Black Christmas that will induce suffering in the minds of the audience. We aren’t given a backstory on or motives of the killer, but evidence suggests that he has a preoccupation with the idea of pregnancy or motherhood. Moreover, there are different types of mothers or maternity examples in the film from a sorority house mother to a knocked-up college student contemplating an abortion. Interestingly, this is where Black Christmas refuses to conform to the morality play underscoring many horror films in which teen and college students engaging in deviant or indiscriminate sexual behaviors are the ones killed off. The point-of-view movements and kills take you out of your seat and into the narrative as a quasi accomplice to the murders. Of course, we are not prevued to all the murders as there is a rape and murder in the same area that is said to be linked to Billy but we never truly learn the origin of these murders or even the true identity of Billy.

Although Black Christmas is a serious slasher, it is not without its comedic moments. The sorority mom and her booze will keep you laughing while one of the police officers will have you rolling over in your chair with his complete incompetence and lack of knowledge of fellatio. The film never falls into the area of self-aware or parody, but it does successfully balance out the dark narrative with the more lighthearted elements.

If you’re looking for another holiday horror movie to add to your list of Christmas films to watch, then you definitely want to add this one to your lineup. It’s perfectly dark and sinister, takes place in an ominous sorority house that provides us with an incredibly creepy atmosphere, and infamous ending. Instead of shelving it until the holiday season each year, it should be treated like Halloween and other slashers. It’s good year-round! It’s an important film in the horror library because it was the first to give us so many of the tropes that would show up later, and even thought to be originally attributed to later films.

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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Halloween (2018) Full Horror Film Review

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.

For my conversation about Halloween with the guys across the pond at the Movie Drone Podcast, be sure to watch for that episode dropping on Sunday wherever you get your pods.

It’s been 40 years to the day that Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney), the boogeyman, committed the infamous Haddonfield Halloween murders and 55 years since Judith Myers was stabbed to death. On Halloween night, Michael escapes from a bus that was transferring him from Smith Grove to a maximum security prison when the transfer goes horribly wrong. News of this escape puts Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) on high alert as she knows he is heading for Haddonfield. Only this time, she is ready for him. Laurie is challenged with protecting herself while also protecting her daughter’s family. More than protecting herself and her family, Laurie is out for blood. With it being so long since the infamous murders, the town has largely let its guard down. History has faded into myth. But Laurie knew that Michael would be back one day, and she is fully prepared to face-off with the real-life boogeyman.

From the moment the film cuts to the vintage titles and the smashed jack-o-lantern becoming whole again, after the prologue, I knew that I was in for a real treat. That music is so incredibly iconic; those familiar chords are enough to strike fear in those who listen. Although many in the general audience may overlook the power of an opening title sequence, the typeface, transitions, music, and jack-o-lantern work together in order to communicate to the audience that David Gordon Green recognizes and respects the original and knows that you will love this installment that goes back to what made the first one work so well. It’s as if he is stating to the audience “I’ve heard you and I love the original too.” Instead of falling in line with current trends in horror films, Green is communicating to the audience that he is taking this franchise back to the roots. and back to the roots, he did. For fans of the franchise, you will undoubtedly recognize some easter eggs and other moments in the plot and kills that are nods to the original. Nods with a slight twist. I love the moments that connected me to the original. Same may call it shallow fan service, but I call that branding. Branding is important to a franchise, because those are the moments that are quintessential to the experience. And these moments in the film, that I see as branding, connect us to the original. Holding back on that branding would inhibit the nostalgia from shining briefly here and there. So much of Michael and Laurie’s identities are connected to those branding moments. However, don’t allow the return to channeling what made the first one work so well lead you to believe that you have it all figured out. While the soul of the original is there, the plot is full of twists and turns because just as Laurie was ready for Michael, he was ready for all of us sitting out there in the dark.

Written by Green, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fragley, this installment in the Halloween franchise was written to be a true continuation of the original story, ignoring everything that came after it. On that note, I like Halloween 2 and Halloween H20 but I am also equally pleased that this one essentially takes all the sequels and chalks them up to fan fiction. Could H2 and H20 have been included and the film still play out just as original and powerful? I think so, but at the same time, I did not find myself missing those installments. By placing this story 40 years after the original, it was able to remove all the absurdities of most of the others and start afresh. Missing from many of the other sequels was the playful nature of the original. Horror movies are supposed to be fun! Scary but fun. Even though there is murder and mayhem in a horror movie, that does not mean that it should be without those humorous moments. Fortunately for Green’s Halloween, the screenplay provides us with a simple revenge plot with a fantastically complex cast of principal characters. There is this refreshing exuberance I felt in the experience of this film. It was almost the same feeling that I got when I watched the original Halloween for the first time. The reason horror is used in events like Halloween Horror Nights and Howl-O-Scream is because there is a high level of amusement in it. And the screenplay of this film has perfect levels of horror and humor to keep you hooked and entertained for the whole time. Beyond the excellent direction Green provided, Jamie Lee looks so incredibly satisfying reprising her breakout role, we get a throwback Michael, and more. The key to the success of this film is the solid screenwriting. Moreover, this is not only a fantastic horror movie, it’s a solid film with no clarifier needed.

Before getting into content that requires me to talk spoilers, I want to explore the characters of Michael and Laurie specifically. Entire theses could be written on this subject, but let’s look at some of the main points. You may have asked yourself “what makes Michael tick?” The short answer: we do not know enough about his psychology, sociology, or physiology to know for sure. And that is a good thing! Why? Because if we knew too much about his mind and body, he would cease to be the boogeyman. And being the boogeyman is so important to, not only this franchise, but horror in general. That little bit of mystery and fantasy allow him to remain a monster to be feared and never truly understood. You see what happens to people in the film who seek to understand Michael better–hint–it’s not good. But since we are voyeurs who are obsessed with knowing, here is the long and short of what we know. According to Casandra Dodge (Ph.D. in criminology candidate at the University of South Florida), Michael likely suffers from and displays signs of a combination of antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive compulsive disorder. We do not know enough to draw these conclusions, but there are signs of a combination of these psycho-social disorders.

Laurie is even more fascinating in this film than she was in the original. In many ways, she takes on some of the characteristics of Dr. Loomis from the first movie. He warned everyone about Michael’s violent behavior and would not be swayed into thinking that he could be rehabilitated. He was ready to kill Michael at every turn. Like Michael likely suffers from OCD, Laurie and Dr. Loomis also show signs of this disorder. Moreover, Laurie also displays signs of being a psychopath herself. Loomis, Laurie, and Michael could all be psychopaths. But contrary to popular belief, very few psychopaths are violent. In fact, careers for people that could be classified as psychopaths include: lawyers, surgeons, law enforcement, professors, artists, and more. Albeit I am overly simplifying, psychopathy means that you are predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviors and tend to be self-centered (among other characteristics). Laurie is less the final girl in this movie than she was in the original because she is very masculine and protective from the very beginning. There is no one defining moment that she sheds her (heteronormatively speaking) feminine self and takes on the traditional role of a man in stories to save the day and ultimately survive the killer. She is out for revenge the whole movie. I also appreciate how her character provides commentary on the realness of PTSD, and and the affects it has upon the whole body. On the note of revenge, the plot of this film aligns more closely with a revenge plot than a morality play. No mistaking it, Laurie Strode is back, and more phenomenal than ever! I love her character.

(spoilers ahead)

Substance and commentary. The original slashers such as HalloweenFriday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm Street, and other horror films (that do not fall into the slasher genre) hold up so incredibly well because there is a high degree of subtext that provides a solid foundation upon which to build the more superficial elements of the plot. At its core, the traditional slasher and is a morality play. And this morality goes beyond have casual sex and die or do drugs and die. But the aforementioned are recurring themes in these films. What I appreciate about the new Halloween is not following that approach–at least, not in the same way. It would be all too easy to pick-out the murders based upon that theoretical framework, and Michael is not about to have that. Characters you think will die do not, and other characters that you may not think will die, wind up another Haddonfield victim. The best example of this abandonment of the more traditional approach to slashers is the first kills. One of the past tropes of horror films is that if you are a kid or gay (or queer) you don’t die. Guess again, the 12yo boy who happens upon Michael’s transport bus who prefers dancing to hunting (tipping the hand to the fact he is likely gay) becomes one of Michael’s first victims. This is an indicator that all bets are off–no one is safe. Furthermore, the babysitter that is killed is someone whom is rather likable. She’s a good babysitter–loves her kid–and even when with her boyfriend comes over to the house, they do not engage in anything beyond “dry humping” and some weed smoking. No sex or hardcore drug usage here. Such a great approach because we like the babysitter; however, she winds up a victim anyhow. And Allison’s (Laurie’s grand-daughter) boyfriend kisses another girl at the school dance, but he does not wind up a victim. Although I would have preferred that he died, I like the fact that the rule book is thrown out.

The film also toys around with the idea of the Final Girl by playing around with the hard definition that we’ve recognized for all these years. And it pays off! Furthermore, we have some excellent commentary on and foreshadowing of the role Allison will play later on in the film. She and her boyfriend go to the high school Halloween dance as Bonnie and Clyde–with a twist! They gender bent the costumes. Showing Allison in the pants, foreshadows that she has that same androgynous image that Laurie had in the first film, tipping the hat that she is our final girl. However, she is not the only final girl. We have final girls in this movie. But this concept runs deeper than just the simple fact that we have a trifecta of female heroines. There is pattern established in the movie that when one faces Michael alone that he cannot be defeated. While the journalists at the beginning may seem like mere plot devices through which Michael gets his mask returned, they are so much more. They start the pattern because by themselves, they cannot defeat Michael, and die. The babysitter couldn’t defeat him alone, and her boyfriend died trying to protect his girlfriend. All of them on their own. Even Laurie, though being a solid match for Michael, cannot defeat him on her own either. It’s only when Laurie teams up with her daughter and grand-daughter that Michael can be taken down. Love this!

We also have some poetic justice kills. Loomis’ protege who seeks to use Michael for his own personal gain in the fields of science and academia. He is so incredibly prideful in the capabilities of his brain that his kill is symbolic that Michael will not be used to further his pretentious intellect. He stomps on his head like a pumpkin and the brain matter explodes like pumpkin seeds n a flash on screen (note: this is the most graphic kill). Likewise, the journalists who were using Michael to further their own careers by attempting to be smarter than Michael and even patronizing, wind up dead with primarily injuries to the head. Incredibly symbolic! Furthermore, there are other kills that serve purposes to comment on behavior and intention as well. In addition to symbolic kills and homages to the original, there is a recurring pumpkin and jack-o-lantern motif in the film. I need to watch again, but I believe we have a jack-o-lantern in nearly every scene like we do in the original. In fact, two of the heads of victims are turned into jack-o-lanterns with a flashlight shining out through the decapitated heads. While much of what I have described sounds grossly violent, there is far more violence off screen than what we actually see. Even the kills that are on the screen do not linger. This is important because lingering violence detracts from the narrative and becomes shallow spectacle. Green has a nice balance between narrative and spectacle. He truly showcases he art of storytelling all through Halloween.

Do yourself a favor and go see this movie! It was everything that I wanted it to be. Not only is it a great horror film, it’s a great film period. From the writing to the direction, production design, music and more. It is destined to be a future horror classic worthy of many rewatches.

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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Howl-O-Scream 2018 Full Review

Howl-O-Scream is here, and there is #NowhereToHide from the hoards of zombies, killer toys, sociopathic butchers, and more! Opening this past weekend, Busch Gardens’ annual Halloween event kicked off with thunderous applause from all  the fiends that dared face the horrors of the six houses and scare zones. With some new additions to the HOS lineup, this year was screamtastic! From coasters with zombies to great food and drinks, Busch Gardens provides the best value for a large scale haunted event. Enter if you dare, but be warned that there are terrors around every corner and where you least expect them to be, including on Busch Gardens’ heart-heart-pounding coasters! Might just find yourself riding next to a vomit-inducing zombie. In her encore year, HOS also bids the queen of Death Water Bayou a ghoulish farewell. Select night from now until October 27th, you don’t want to miss a single epic moment of Howl-O-Scream 2018 at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

The frights begin even before you enter the from gate. Wandering hoards of a variety of all that goes bump in the night will be your personal poltergeist. In order to make sure you make the most of your time at HOS, I highly recommend the front-of-the-line pass. Fortunately, my friend and I had them on opening night, and it allowed us to move about casually about the event. Even if you do not elect to get the front-of-the-line pass, you will most likely make it to all the houses if you begin right at start time. But, the best way to experience HOS is every night of the event with the season pass. With general admission prices well below Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream provides park guests with the most band for your buck. I am often asked by my followers on Twitter which event is more fun or to compare the two, and I often reply with the cliche analogy of apples and oranges because both are fruit, yet unique. Whereas HHN has a much higher production quality, HOS has the better scares. At least, that rings true for my friends and me who attend both these events every year. We go to HHN for the familiar IPs and to HOS to get scared. After all these years, it is getting more and more difficult to startle or scare me. So scare factor is important when I attend a theme park or local haunt.

Entering the park from the Nairobi Gate (for the media event), I found myself in the Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) scare zone. The costumes were brilliant! Between the Mexican themed food, music, and the projections on the Moroccan Palace, it was truly an immersive scare zone to kick the opening night festivities off in a superb fashion. After celebrating the Day of the Dead with the inhabitants of that scare zone, my friend Dani and fellow Tweep Off of the Go were on our way to checkin to one of this year’s new houses Insomnia. Insomnia is in the location where Zombie Containment Unit used to be, and it’s a HUGE upgrade. In fact, Insomnia is in the running to be the most popular this year. In the Insomnia house, you are walking through a disturbing psychiatric hospital of the most bizarre nature. While touring this sinister place, you will encounter unimaginable terror around every corner. You’ll not only want to watch out for deadly patients but what lurks in the walls and ceilings. If you can make it out alive, you’ll have more to worry about than Freddy Krueger next time you go to sleep. Maybe it’s best if you never sleep again.

One of my favorite parts of Howl-O-Scream every year is the annual Fiends show!! Consistently irreverent and hilariously funny, this show is the highlight of my experience each year. I was especially excited for it this year because Universal canceled the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure show. As much as I enjoy the macabre nature of the houses and scare zones, Fiends provides park guests an opportunity to laugh! This laughter is both immensely entertaining and it cleanses the pallet for continued enjoyment of the horrifying attractions. Join Dr. Freakenstein, Igor, their sexy pink nurses and all the rest of the fiends as they celebrate Dr. Freakenstein’s birthday number 666. The jokes are funnier, lewder, racier than ever—it’s the honor comedy show not to be missed. Fiends consistently delivers an incredible show that will hold your attention and cause you to possibly engage in uncontrollable laughter the entire time. Whoever writes the show, must have an amazingly fun time doing so! Dr. Freakenstein and Igor are equal opportunity offenders. No one is safe from their riffs and banter. Especially a certain orange-skinned individual with a terrible combover. So much eye candy at the show. Whether you’re looking for sexy pink female nurses, mesmerizingly beautiful vampires, hot shirtless male dancers, or totally rad mummies that can breakdance like no one’s business, you will find them in Dr. Freakenstein’s Castle.

Next door to Fiends is The Black Spot pirate themed haunted maze. Likely in its final year, this is a house returning from the last few years  that invites park guests to enter into a treacherous land of pirates, sea creatures, treasure, and curses. One of my favorite things about this house is entering in through a pirate ship and encountering a massive rock skull. It may not be one of my favorite houses this year, but I do enjoy the themed design. The scares could use a little work, but the production design is solid. Personally, I prefer Dead Fall, which was in this location prior to Black Spot. Once we disembarked the pirate ship, we needed to head for our hotel—motel, rather. The journey would not be as simple as hailing a taxi or requesting an Uber. We had to make the journey on foot through the Deadly Toys scare zone. There is little more terrifying and creepy than that which is otherwise innocent, being twisted into something truly sinister. Chainsaw wielding teddy bears, possessed dolls, killer clowns, and more. Even the toy boxes are enough to strike fear in your mind. Once we escaped the clutches of the dolls, bears, and clowns, we arrived at our destination

Motel Hell is still my favorite house at HOS. Of all the houses, it is the most detailed and elaborate. If there was any one house at HOS that was of an HHN original house quality, it is Motel Hell. I feel that it is the strongest house for effective and consistent theming that works to transport you from a theme park to a rundown motel from the 1950s. Every room in this motel has something terrifying to offer the residents. And yes, it’s complete with that 1940s scratchy high pitched record music too. Something straight out of Insidious. Even though each room is unique, there is still a great deal of coherency in the design. You never feel that you have been taken out of the story. Underneath beds, in bath tubs, in dark corners, and behind the walls, it will feel that there is no way out of this hell. Just when you think it’s over, that’s when the scar actors will get you. In addition to being the best in design, it’s also the most fun house. Lots of horror tropes here!

Located across from Motel Hell is Busch Gardens’ first area to be recommended for 17 years of age and up. With no one checking IDs, I am not sure how this is monitored but I imagine that if someone under the age of 17 wonders in, they have been warned that this is a disturbing area. After all, you are in a meat market. Animals and humans too. There are elements of this scare zone that are not for the faint of heart. If you’re looking to get a great HOS photo, then the photo opportunities in Meat Market are for you. With several to choose from, there is a setting for every fiend. Simon’s Slaughterhouse is a new house for HOS this year that is recommended for those who are 17 years of age and older because of the disturbing and intense material. In this house, you may be separated from your group at the front entrance, which alone can increase the terror level. As you navigate this claustrophobic maze through a sinister slaughterhouse, you will encounter the sounds of meat being harvested, and I am not just talking animals.

If you emerge mostly unscathed from Simon’s Slaughterhouse, you’ll want to make your way to visit the excavation at Unearthed. Returning this year, Unearthed’s maze is modified and additional props are used. Instead of entering the house from the Gwazi platform and walking past that amazing animatronic tree that I’ve always found impressive, you enter in from the basement, so to speak. In order to find your way through the maze, you are given a flashlight. A nice touch! My friend Dani carried the flashlight for us so I could take pictures. Speaking of which, unless you have a lens with a wide-open aperture, photos in side the houses are actually difficult to take. Other than the entrance, the house is largely unchanged. Like Motel Hell, I find that this one has a solid production design, full of details. One of the things that I feel is missing from this house, that cold improve it, is a coherent story. When it was first revealed a few years ago, it has more of a story than it does now. Bringing that back, can assist in the over all experience of this house.

Standing between you and the park’s exit is the Hell on Wheels scare zone. I hope you’re not hungry or thirsty when approaching this scare zone. You see, a notorious gang has staked claim to the food and water supplies after an apocalyptic event. You cannot outrun these bad ass motorcycle gang members, and with #NowhereToHide, you are going to be on the run of your life. Lots of sliders in this area, and those sliders’ scares are always effective. Although we found ourselves in the front of the park, we still wanted to visit the Camp DOA scare zone in the back of the park. Dani and I also had a few scareactors that we wanted to find! We were also craving a pretzel dog from Pantopia. Dani has a friend who’s one of the scareactors in the Maniac Midway, and we missed her earlier when we rode Falcon’s Fury.

Since we arrived in Pantopia before her friend came out, we took a moment to grab our pretzel dogs from that dope quick service location near Falcon’s Fury. I greatly appreciate Busch Garden’s for doing their best to include so many local horror enthusiast and actors who just want to have fun scaring and creeping out HOS guests. No matter if someone may not have the range of physical abilities as others. If you show an enthusiasm for a desire to scare the HOS guests, then Busch Gardens will do their best to accommodate and include you. After spending a moment getting scared by Dani’s friend who was hiding in the shadows in order to startle those who venture into the midway overrun by maniac clowns. Next we made our way over to Sheikra to catch one of my new friends I’ve met on Twitter (MisfitsUnmanaged) who is playing a cider smoking chain-saw wielding clown. But before we can get to Sheikra, we must pass through the Camp DOA scare zone. Located where the Wasteland scare zone used to be, this scare zone is a great interpretation of summer camp slasher horror movies. I love this quick story because it just goes to show how social media can provide an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals! Fortunately, the timing worked so that MisfitsUnmanaged was going to be coming out as Dani and I were in the Sheikra area. Lastly, I needed to see another friend of mine that I figure skate with who was playing a ghost-like zombie in the front of the park. Timing was perfect, we got to get our picture together!

Well, there you have it! A comprehensive review of Howl-O-Scream 2018 at Busch Gardens!  Although opening weekend has come and gone, you still have many more weekends to enjoy this event! With tickets starting at $39, it’s a fantastic value that gives you the most bank for your buck. I need to return to ride Cheetah Hunt and Skeikra with scareactors, but that just gives me even more reason to get the season pass so I can go back time and time again.

 

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