What I'm Watching: Horror Marathon II


My October movie marathon continues and I’m happy to say I’m still having a wonderful time with it. I’m inspired by the depth and variety in the horror genre. It’s invigorating.

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror.

I always try to catch at least one of these a year. This time around it was the original: #1. It featured “Bad Dream House”, “Hungry are the Damned” and “The Raven.”  All three are strong, but my favorite is “The Raven”. The reading of Poe’s poem is very good and retains a lot of its music and eeriness, but is still funny.

All of the ToH efforts tend to remind me that there’s always room to explore classic tropes.

The Girl Next Door (2007)

“Based on the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name, The Girl Next Door follows the unspeakable torture and abuses committed on a teenage girl in the care of her aunt...and the boys who witness and fail to report the crime” (IMDB).

I did not enjoy this film. All the while it was on, I kept thinking about Jack Ketchum’s novel. This is one of those stories that is so raw and powerful…and real… that I think it suffers on screen. I am of the opinion that it is the words and images--the voice of the writer mediating the events--that create the strongest connection in a case like this.

On screen, the horror of abuse falls too flat. Or maybe it is just because the actors just weren’t quite up to the task. I don’t know.

I did like the framing story and the period details.

As a writer, I want to work on my ability to not look away. I want to develop my instincts about when to push forward and when to hold back. Sometimes it’s all about detail, honesty, and momentum.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

“A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living” (IMDB).

This is one of my favorites. It is witty and fun and has genuine moments of suspense. Just when I am convinced that I’m completely over the zombie genre as a whole, I’m reminded why it can be so bloody brilliant. It doesn’t hurt that this is a genre-blender. By playing with rom-com and zombie tropes at the same time, you get something even more fun. 

The dialogue is one of my favorite parts of the film. It just snaps. Here’s one of my favorites.

Shaun: “As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no "I" in team, but there is an "I" in pie. And there's an "I" in meat pie. Anagram of meat is team... I don't know what he's talking about.” (IMDB).

I love it because it captures the essence of the absurdity of corporate culture. Shaun of the Dead satirizes consumerism, business, and the zombification of culture with brutal precision. And it still manages to be hilarious.

This is just the kind of thing I like to play with. I don’t care for didactic fiction. I don’t want to write big, direct polemics, but I do want to write about things I care about. I think humor is a powerful way to create balance.

Final Destination (2000), Final Destination 2 (2003), Final Destination 3 (2003)

The basic description of the first film reads: “After a teenager has a terrifying vision of him and his friends dying in a plane crash, he prevents the accident only to have Death hunt them down, one by one” (IMDB).

Insert in a highway pile-up, and a roller coaster accident in place of plane crash and you’ll get the picture.

Repetitive or not, I find most of this series very entertaining. The initial visions are usually over-the-top, but horrifying. The parts I like best, though, are the death sequences that follow. They are delightful because they play out like a Rube Goldberg machine of mayhem. When the films attempt a longer tie between them, I’m even more intrigued.

These films inspire me to get creative and to carefully consider patterns. Cause and effect can be something really powerful. I tend to find action sequences a challenge to write and I like to turn to these films because it’s so good at breaking it up into pieces.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

“Aliens who look like clowns come from outer space and terrorize a small town” (IMDB).

That’s an accurate, if somewhat less than elegant description of the basic plot. In other words, it’s perfect. This movie is sublimely ridiculous and it is one of my go-to flicks. I admire how the film embraces its conceit and runs with it. The clowns attack with cotton candy cocoons, popcorn guns, pie fights, and so on. They travel in a big-top. The clowns themselves are excellent grotesques. Throw in a theme song by The Dickies, and you’ve got my vote.

I don’t need a lot of prodding into the weird, but this movie definitely makes me feel welcome there. It always tells me that no idea is too silly…to be a B movie, anyway. Pulp fiction FTW!

The Watcher in the Woods (1980).

“When a family moves to a country home, the young girls experience strange happenings that have a link to an occult event years past” (IMDB).

I remember watching this Disney movie when I was a kid. It was spooky and atmospheric, filled with delightful scares. I think it holds up very well, despite a rather wobbly performance by the lead. What the film does best is scare through details: reflections, glimpses, hints and portents. I think the choice to have one girl see things and the other hear them is a masterful touch. It highlights the senses in such a clever way and heightens the tension throughout. There’s no blood and guts in this, but it works.

Watching movies like this make me want to try writing classic haunting or supernatural tales. It also makes me more interested in blending genres. Sci-fi horror should be explored more often. Working on creating an eerie atmosphere is always a goal.

The Shining (1980)

“A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future” (IMDB).

I loved the Stephen King novel. I know that King famously hated (hates?) the Kubrick film, but I am a big fan. They each have their own stamp. Kubrick’s film is simply gorgeous and haunting. Jack Nicholson’s performance is iconic and is certainly a big contributor to my admiration of the film, but it is the look and sound of The Overlook itself that keeps me coming back.

There are images from that film that will stay with me always, I suspect. The twins, the blood in the corridor, the maze, and the mountains---and the bar scenes---are all fantastic. This time through the film, I paid special attention to the soundtrack. It was so evocative and eerie.

I watched Room 237, the movie about fan theories. I can see why people become obsessed with the film. It is rich and layered. Unfortunately, I see far too many of these kinds of interpretations in my teaching life to be terribly amused. Running rampant with nearly random associations with images or trivia is no way to build a literary argument. Just sayin’.

All right, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll end with this: if you haven’t seen The Shining, do it. It inspires me anew every time I see it.

Friday the 13th (2009)  

"A group of young adults discover a boarded up Camp Crystal Lake, where they soon encounter Jason Voorhees and his deadly intentions" (IMDB). 

I much prefer the classic, but this one does serve up a buffet of douchebags for Jason to dispatch.  

Slither (2006)

“A small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters” (IMDB).

There are some good squicky moments in this film. It’s a bit too “har-de-har-har, look at them dumb rednecks” for me to love it, but I did laugh some. I remember liking this a lot more the first time I saw it. I’m going to attribute that to the awesome factor that is Nathan Fillion. He’s just so damned charming. That holds true on subsequent viewings.

Hmmm. I’m not sure what to say about this. I’m inspired to write Nathan Fillion fan-fic? I should write things for him to star in? I should write a character that embodies those same things Nathan Fillion is so great at playing? Yeah. That’s it. We’ll go with that.

And on that brilliant, note, I’ll wrap up this installment.

I hope everyone is having a great month.

Thanks for reading,