Category Archives: Horror films


Kudos to Kill List director Ben Wheatley (and to writer Phil Brown) for a short but devastating observation he made in Rue Morgue #120 (March 2012 issue):

“For me, the difference between the original Dawn of the Dead and the Zack Snyder remake, which I really like as well, is that you know that Romero is actually terrified about dying in a nuclear apocalypse and Zack Snyder’s not afraid of anything.”



Kubrick’s Copy of ‘The Shining’

Just finished a short piece abut the new documentary about The Shining, Room 237, for Rue Morgue, so coming across this next bit today seems an eerie bit of synchronicity.

Kudos to Lilja’s Library for posting these images from Stanley Kubrick’s own copy of The Shining, complete with marginalia. While the images seemed to have originated from the fantastic Tumblr The Overlook Hotel, Lilja’s images seem to be much sharper, to the point where you can actually read (sort of) some of Kubrick’s notes. (OK, I’m a huge notebook nerd; sue me.)

The New, New Horror: ‘Winter’s Bone’

I promised myself that I wouldn’t neglect this blog after The New Horror Handbook came out, and then I promptly did just that. While I’ve had one book come out since then, and have been working on another, that’s still no excuse. In my defense, I have to say that there hasn’t been all that much going on in the world of horror.

Yet, that’s not entirely true. A couple of days ago I finally saw Winter’s Bone, and realized that there are indeed some interesting things going on in the world of horror; you simply have to know where to look.

To be fair, none of the marketing or published reviews of this independent film would ever lead you to believe that it is full-throttle horror flick. The setup: a teenage girl in the Ozarks must locate her bail-jumping father before the law takes the family homestead, sounds like the plot of a 1950s western. However, what we get is the spiritual successor to movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Wolf Creek.

The reason so much of horror is so disposable is that we’re constantly served a legion of poorly-developed, unsympathetic characters that are dispatched employing a formula so overused as to render the whole exercise meaningless. Even movies like Frozen that seek to mix up that formula a little promptly disappear from memory immediately after watching them.

In Winter’s Bone, we’re presented with sympathetic characters plunged into a horrific mystery that actually feels threatening because, unlike the Saws and slashers of this world, we don’t know the rules ahead of time. And there are images in that movie that will stay with you for days.

Though the movie won’t do anything to rehabilitate the mountain-people stereotype any time soon, it also withholds judgment on these people, too, which is a remarkable achievement considering the horrors chronicled here. With its rich cinematography (shot on a RED camera, no less, though you’d never know it), it simultaneously shows you a world you might not have seen before, and explains why the events to follow were as inevitable as they are horrific.

And yes, Winter’s Bone meets all of the criteria laid out in The New Horror Handbook: aesthetic appeal, an underlying message, and hidden depths.

If you’ve been itching to see something new in horror, you owe it to yourself to check out this movie. If nothing else, you’ll never look at nighttime rowing the same way again.

Halloween Head-to-Head

Movie 1: ‘Trick ‘r Treat’

OK, so Halloween’s on the way, people have been going on and on about Trick ‘r Treat, and finally we had the opportunity to sit down with it yesterday for a proper Halloween movie double-header.

Let me get this out of the way right up front: I don’t get it.

I mean I kind of get it, going for that whole “We haven’t had a decent dumb Halloween-centric flick since Halloween III: Season of the Witch” vibe. But no, I don’t get it.

I really wanted to like this one, if for no other reason than the oddly iconic “Sam,” the burlap-cheeked mascot of the flick. And hell, Brian Cox! Need I say more? Well, yes, apparently.

For those who haven’t caught this “must see,” Trick ‘r Treat has your typical EC Comics/Creepshow setup: a handful of creepy stories tied together by a larger wraparound tale. Some mean kids try to freak out a socially awkward little girl, the school principal gets creepy, the town recluse gets harassed… you’ve seen it all before. It’s slickly produced, the sound is great, it features your usual plastic-perfect stars…and the thing just doesn’t go anywhere.

Continue reading Halloween Head-to-Head

Creepy Ass ‘Children’

“Hey you kids! Get off my lawn, and stay the hell out of my gardening tools!”

A couple nights back, Lady Pain and I settled down with Tom Shankland’s 2008 English infant apocalypse The Children (not to be confused with the 1980s flick of the same name), and got ourselves a creepy, effective little nailbiter for our troubles.

There’ve been plenty of “bad seed” and devil-baby movies in the past, but this one’s not what you’re used to. A handful of ostensibly normal wee ones begin to use the skills they often employ to manipulate adults in daily life to deadly effect, tormenting their parents in a way far more distressing than anything you’re likely to see in a typical slasher.

It’s not that the methods of dispatch are particularly upsetting, but the assured way that they play on adults’ feelings for them is what makes this one so effective. The commentary on “enlightened” parenting (we don’t hit children here), though a tad heavy handed, is also a perfect example of the way the New Horror uses violence and arresting imagery to address larger real world issues. The camera work and its use of nature shots in the dead of winter are particularly effective here.

Sure, Shankland explains the children’s violent streaks away with some mysterious illness that’s infecting the tykes, but this is the only cop out of the movie, and probably instrumental in keeping this production safe from the censor’s ax. It no doubt also helped dampen the protest against the scenes where the adults start fighting back against their deadly offspring. The long buildup to the final showdown may limit The Children‘s rewatchability, but this one’s definitely worth your time.

‘Paranormal Activity’ Experiences Paranormal Box Office


The movie is Airplane. The titular aircraft is experiencing a bad day and somebody’s sitting in their seat, losing their shit, while nuns, boxers and a great many more are lined up to slap some sense into her.

We are that line of disciplinarians, and Hollywood is the squealling passenger. And Paranormal Activity is the slap heard round the world.

Don’t think so? Think again. Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make, cost Paramount about $2 million to acquire, and so far has made more than $9 million on an extremely limited release. It’s set to open across the country very soon.


Addendum: After an amazing, viral PR push, Paranormal Activity is now opening across the country on 10/16/09. Click here to find a theater near you.

‘Paranormal Activity’: This Decade’s ‘Blair Witch’

paranormal3Paranormal Activity, the Little Horror Movie That Could, continues its subtle domination of the world, one theater at a time. After a few weeks of enticing horror fans to “Demand” screenings of the flick in their neck of the woods, word now comes that if 1 million people do so, Paramount will open the movie wide across the country. What that actually means is open to interpretation right now, but still, an extremely clever gambit this.

This year being the 10th anniversary of the release of The Blair Witch Project, the temptation to compare the two films is overwhelming, especially considering the expert use of viral marketing. However, there’s more to it than that.

When you look at the ebb and flow of horror movies in the last 15 years (feel free to do so by picking up a copy of The New Horror Handbook), Paranormal Activity has more in common with Blair Witch than a great marketing campaign. Both movies hit theaters at a time when theatrical horror releases had descended into flaccid, formulaic tripe.

In 1999, the competition was The Mummy, Stigmata, Sleepy Hollow, and a few other equally predictable works. This year, it’s H2, Final Destination 4, Jennifer’s Body and Saw 6. With the exception of Diablo Cody’s entry, it’s all been there/done that.

Will we still be talking about Paranormal Activity 10 years from now? I’m guessing that we will. It’s not often that you get a genuinely scary movie in cinemas. Hopefully we will all get the chance to see this one amidst the shrieks and jumps of other horror fans.

Addendum: After an amazing, viral PR push, Paranormal Activity is now opening across the country on 10/16/09. Click here to find a theater near you.