Internal Conflict: Five Conflicting Traits of a Likable Hero.
1. Flaws and Virtues
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but characters without flaws are boring. This does not, as many unfortunate souls take it to mean, imply that good, kind, or benevolent characters are boring: it just means that without any weaknesses for you to poke at, they tend to be bland-faced wish fulfillment on the part of the author, with a tendency to just sit there without contributing much to the plot.
For any character to be successful, they need to have a proportionate amount of flaws and virtues.
Let’s take a look at Stranger Things, for example, which is practically a smorgasbord of flawed, lovable sweethearts.
We have Joyce Byers, who is strung out and unstable, yet tirelessly works to save her son, even when all conventional logic says he’s dead; We have Officer Hopper, who is drunken and occasionally callous, yet ultimately is responsible for saving the boy’s life; We have Jonathan, who is introspective and loving, but occasionally a bit of a creeper, and Nancy, who is outwardly shallow but proves herself to be a strong and determined character. Even Steve, who would conventionally be the popular jerk who gets his comeuppance, isn’t beyond redemption.
And of course, we have my beloved Eleven, who’s possibly the closest thing Stranger Things has to a “quintessential” heroine. She’s the show’s most powerful character, as well as one of the most courageous. However, she is also the show’s largest source of conflict, as it was her powers that released the Demogorgon to begin with.
Would Eleven be a better character if this had never happened? Would Stranger Things be a better show? No, because if this had never happened, Stranger Things wouldn’t even be a show. Or if it was, it would just be about a bunch of cute kids sitting around and playing Dungeons and Dragons in a relatively peaceful town.
A character’s flaws and mistakes are intended to drive the plotline, and if they didn’t have them, there probably wouldn’t even be a plot.
So don’t be a mouth-breather: give your good, kind characters some difficult qualities, and give your villains a few sympathetic ones. Your work will thank you for it.
2. Charisma and Vulnerability
Supernatural has its flaws, but likable leads are not one of them. Fans will go to the grave defending their favorite character, consuming and producing more character-driven, fan-created content than most other TV shows’ followings put together.
So how do we inspire this kind of devotion with our own characters? Well, for starters, let’s take a look at one of Supernatural’s most quintessentially well-liked characters: Dean Winchester.
From the get-go, we see that Dean has charisma: he’s confident, cocky, attractive, and skilled at what he does. But these qualities could just as easily make him annoying and obnoxious if they weren’t counterbalanced with an equal dose of emotional vulnerability.
As the show progresses, we see that Dean cares deeply about the people around him, particularly his younger brother, to the point of sacrificing himself so that he can live. He goes through long periods of physical and psychological anguish for his benefit (though by all means, don’t feel obligated to send your main character to Hell for forty years), and the aftermath is depicted in painful detail.
Moreover, in spite of his outward bravado, we learn he doesn’t particularly like himself, doesn’t consider himself worthy of happiness or a fulfilling life, and of course, we have the Single Man Tear™.
So yeah, make your characters beautiful, cocky, sex gods. Give them swagger. Just, y’know. Hurt them in equal measure. Torture them. Give them insecurities. Make them cry.
Just whatever you do, let them be openly bisexual. Subtext is so last season.
3. Goals For the Future and Regrets From the Past
Let’s take a look at Shadow Moon from American Gods. (For now, I’ll have to be relegate myself to examples from the book, because I haven’t had the chance to watch the amazing looking TV show.)
Right off the bat, we learn that Shadow has done three years in prison for a crime he may or may not have actually committed. (We learn later that he actually did commit the crime, but that it was only in response to being wronged by the true perpetrators.)
He’s still suffering the consequences of his actions when we meet him, and arguably, for the most of the book: because he’s in prison, his wife has an affair (I still maintain that Laura could have resisted the temptation to be adulterous if she felt like it, but that’s not the issue here) and is killed while mid-coital with his best friend.
Shadow is haunted by this for the rest of the book, to the point at which it bothers him more than the supernatural happenings surrounding him.
Even before that, the more we learn about Shadow’s past, the more we learn about the challenges he faced: he was bullied as a child, considered to be “just a big, dumb guy” as an adult, and is still wrongfully pursued for crimes he was only circumstantially involved in.
But these difficulties make the reader empathize with Shadow, and care about what happens to him. We root for Shadow as he tags along with the mysterious and alternatively peckish and charismatic Wednesday, and as he continuously pursues a means to permanently bring Laura back to life.
He has past traumas, present challenges, and at least one goal that propels him towards the future. It also helps that he’s three-dimensional, well-written, and as of now, portrayed by an incredibly attractive actor.
Of course (SPOILER ALERT), Shadow never does succeed in fully resurrecting Laura, ultimately allowing her to rest instead, but that doesn’t make the resolution any less satisfying.
Which leads to my next example…
4. Failure and Success
You remember in Zootopia, when Judy Hopps decides she wants to be cop and her family and town immediately and unanimously endorse her efforts? Or hey, do you remember Harry Potter’s idyllic childhood with his kindhearted, adoptive family? Oh! Or in the X-Files, when Agent Mulder presents overwhelming evidence of extraterrestrial life in the first episode and is immediately given a promotion? No?
Yeah, me neither. And there’s a reason for this: ff your hero gets what they want the entire time, it will be a boring, two-dimensional fantasy that no one will want to read.
A good story is not about the character getting what they want. A good story is about the character’s efforts and their journey. The destination they reach could be something far removed from what they originally thought they wanted, and could be no less (if not more so) satisfying because of it.
Let’s look at Toy Story 3, for example: throughout the entire movie, Woody’s goal is to get his friends back to their longtime owner, Andy, so that they can accompany him to college. He fails miserably. None of his friends believe that Andy was trying to put them in the attic, insisting that his intent was to throw them away. He is briefly separated from them as he is usurped by a cute little girl and his friends are left at a tyrannical daycare center, but with time and effort, they’re reunited, Woody is proven right, and things seem to be back on track.
Do his efforts pay off? Yes – just not in the way he expected them to. At the end of the movie, a college-bound Andy gives the toys away to a new owner who will play with them more than he will, and they say goodbye. Is the payoff bittersweet? Undoubtedly. It made me cry like a little bitch in front of my young siblings. But it’s also undoubtedly satisfying.
So let your characters struggle. Let them fail. And let them not always get what they want, so long as they get what they need.
5. Loving and Being Loved by Others
Take a look back at this list, and all the characters on it: a gaggle of small town kids and flawed adults, demon-busting underwear models, an ex-con and his dead wife, and a bunch of sentient toys. What do they have in common? Aside from the fact that they’re all well-loved heroes of their own stories, not much.
But one common element they all share is they all have people they care about, and in turn, have people who care about them.
This allows readers and viewers to empathize with them possibly more than any of the other qualities I’ve listed thus far, as none of it means anything without the simple demonstration of human connection.
Let’s take a look at everyone’s favorite caped crusader, for example: Batman in the cartoons and the comics is an easy to love character, whereas in the most recent movies (excluding the splendid Lego Batman Movie), not so much.
Why is this? In all adaptions, he’s the same mentally unstable, traumatized genius in a bat suit. In all adaptions, he demonstrates all the qualities I listed before this: he has flaws and virtues, charisma and vulnerability, regrets from the past and goals for the future, and usually proportionate amounts of failure and success.
What makes the animated and comic book version so much more attractive than his big screen counterpart is the fact that he does one thing right that all live action adaptions is that he has connections and emotional dependencies on other people.
He’s unabashed in caring for Alfred, Batgirl, and all the Robins, and yes, he extends compassion and sympathy to the villains as well, helping Harley Quinn to ultimately escape a toxic and abusive relationship, consoling Baby Doll, and staying with a child psychic with godlike powers until she died.
Cartoon Batman is not afraid to care about others. He has a support network of people who care about him, and that’s his greatest strength. The DC CU’s ever darker, grittier, and more isolated borderline sociopath is failing because he lacks these things.
And it’s also one of the reasons that the Lego Batman Movie remains so awesome.
God willing, I will be publishing fresh writing tips every week, so be sure to follow my blog and stay tuned for future advice and observations!
Kara has a kid and meets Lena? Super or nah doesn’t matter.
“Five minutes, Jess,” Lena reminded her assistant as the car stopped at a red light. “Just five minutes, and then I’m going to finish unpacking.”
To her credit, she didn’t even look up from her tablet as her boss made the same insistence she’d made twelve times since they’d left the new offices. Jess was familiar with Lena’s rants and opinions and utter dislike of anything social, despite her best efforts to help break the youngest Luthor from her shell.
As someone from the social sciences, I just love, love, LOVE Yuri Plisetsky. He is a precious emotional goldmine. If there is one character I would like to narrate my life, it’ll be Yurio, because you KNOW he’ll come up with out of this world creative ways to tell you how you are the piece of shit who matters and deserves to be happy in life.
Here are the conflicting (but perfectly healthy) and beautiful smorgasbord of emotions I imagine this precious boy has for certain characters of the show.
Yuuri “Katsudon Piggy” Katsuki
Same name, interesting | good step sequence, I want to see him do a perfect skate | WEAKEST PERSON I KNOW FUCK | want to beat him | shit want to beat him in everything | can’t take him losing to others | PROTECT HIM AT ALL COST | gay disgusting Russian-hero-stealing fuck | fuck this guy | sorta fond of him | talk about him to Grandpa all the time
Role model | person I admire the most | but I have had it up to HERE that he wins all the time | he even got Katsuki wtf is nothing sacred | isn’t he old enough to die yet JUST FUCKING DIE ALREADY | but thanks for the record-breaking choreography, I guess | will surpass him someday
Most okay guy I met | appreciates how great I am, which is pretty cool | can be trusted | will cheer for him, I want him to beat everyone else | still want to beat him in competition, though | and he better want to beat me, too
Affirmative action is just one particularly resonant part of this puzzle, in which white people are told that any effort to address historical and current discrimination must necessarily involve taking something from white people and giving it to black people, a zero-sum contest in which, if racism is being ameliorated, it must mean whites are being victimized.
This idea goes back a long way, but it’s important to understand that it needs to be constantly maintained, which is where the conservative media come in. If you’re not a regular viewer of Fox News, reader of Breitbart or listener to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, you may not understand what a central role white racial grievance plays in the media presentations that shape how conservatives today see the world. There are constant reminders in those forums that government is an entity that swoops into your life to steal things from you so that it can give them to undeserving black people.
Sometimes it requires wholesale invention of crimes and outrages, but much of the time the conservative media do it by taking something real and jamming it through a racial extruder to come out on the other end as evidence of the cushy life minorities are being granted. For instance, a Federal Communications Commission program that has existed for decades to help low-income people afford telephone service gets turned by the conservative media into “Obamaphones” supposedly given only to black people, once there’s an African American in the White House.
Ok, so I’ve had this vision in my head for… YEARS now… and this is really the only place such things belong.
Everyone knows not to smell the flowers here. Everyone knows, beware the butterflies.
In the middle of the Forest is a field of flowers, so thickly gathered that you can’t see the ground. They are bold and beautiful, all the colors of the rainbow… all with stems and leaves of red. They have a scent that is hypnotic - the very air quivers with all the things you love, as if your lover’s aftershave and shampoo, your mother’s cooking, and your favorite hot drink were all rolled up into the scents of your favorite season, your favorite building… a veritable smorgasbord of sensual temptations.
There are no animals in the field. There are no insects. There are no birds.
I watched someone stumble, hypnotized by the scents, into that field once. I watched as the petals of the flowers flew up in a giant, tumultuous cloud, a tornado of colors. I watched as those carnivorous butterflies settled upon the unfortunate soul. I heard his screams, muffled by the buzzing of a million wings. I watched as the figure slowly collapsed to the meadow floor… and I watched as even the bones vanished away. New colors appeared among the butterflies, as they wafted back to their stems, and the scents of poppies and safety settled over the lea… Underneath the false smell of love, the subtle scent of copper and the aura of menace is noticeable, if you know what to look for.
Everyone knows to beware the butterflies… everyone knows, you don’t stop to smell the roses.
100 Overlooked/Underappreciated Horror Movie Gems by Max Molinaro
For the past five months I’ve been writing lists of 20 great horror films that I feel may have been overlooked. Here are those five lists assembled in to one place. Enjoy the scares.
Chances are if you are a giant horror fan you may have seen a pretty decent chunk of these, but a vast majority have likely not seen many of them. This is a list of under seen films or movies that aren’t talked about enough when discussing some of the greats…
Possession– I can honestly say there is nothing else like Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession. Starring Sam Neill as Mark and Isabelle Adjani as Anna, Possession is first and foremost about a dissolving marriage. Anna is done with the relationship and Mark tries to salvage it, but revelation after revelation puts more and more strain on their hopes of living happily ever after. As the film progresses it becomes increasingly surreal and disturbing. Mark is livid and lashes out against just about everyone after Anna leaves him, clearly losing his grip. As bad as Mark is becoming, it is nowhere close to the horrors that Anna is facing. Blood drips her mouth and she frequently disappears into a mysterious apartment building. What she is doing in this apartment is something no one can predict and it is deeply troubling. Neill is amazing, but Adjani is the stand out performance in the film. It is an exceptionally physical performance and you can tell that Adjani is giving it her all. One scene where she has some kind of attack that causes her to flail around the ground is extraordinary and the ending of the sequence is truly disgusting. Possession is really an incredible film with many interpretations and some of the most unforgettable images ever put to on screen.
The Devils – There is nothing else like Ken Russell’s 1971 highly controversial film, The Devils. Starring Oliver Reed as Father Urbain Grandier, a lecherous, but respected 17th Century priest, who has great power in a small-fortified French town. He marries a young nun after they fall in love, but that drives a hunchback nun (who as loved Grandier and pictured having sex with him as he appears as Jesus Christ coming down from the cross in the film’s most infamous scene) off the deep end and accusing the priest of witchcraft and consorting with the devil. The Devils is insane and feels like a demented acid trip. Filled with amazing performances and unforgettable scenes, The Devils is one of the most interesting (certain people would say offensive) and greatest horror dramas ever made.
Martyrs – This is a rough one that’s may even be too much for some horror movie veterans, let alone folks new to the genre. Martyrs is a French directed by Pascal Laugier and stars Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï. The film follows the two female leads as one seeks revenge for being kidnapped and tortured in her youth. She’s been psychologically damaged and has become ruthless in her pursuits. She is also racked with guilt about something she witness during her initial escape many years agao, which leads to some of the film’s most frightening sequences. It’s a brutal and in many way nihilistic as it is part of the New French Extremity movement, where you’ll find a smorgasbord of hyper violent cinema. If you can get past the darkness and the violence, you’ll see that there is more to the film than meets the eye and there are many ways to interpret its message.
Ginger Snaps - John Fawcett’s Canadian teen horror film follows Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle), two sisters with a morbid fascination with death. One night they are attacked by what was originally thought to be a rabid dog and Ginger is bit. She soon begins acting strange (and I mean strange for the Fitzgerald sisters, because they already had a reputation) and slowly begins to change physically. It is clear that she is becoming a werewolf and she begins to turn on her sister, the only person she has ever cared for. Ginger Snaps is one of my personal favorite werewolf movies, second only to the classic John Landis film An American Werewolf in London. This tragic tale is sometimes darkly funny, but is ultimately a story about girls entering womanhood. It’s an intelligent take on puberty through the guise of a werewolf movie.
From Beyond – “Humans are such easy prey”. From the director of Re-Animator, Stuart Gordon, and many other people involved in that film, comes From Beyond, the best film to date to be directly based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft. The film stars Jeffrey Combs (the Re-Animator himself), Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree and Ted Sorel and is a gory body-horror film unlike anything you’ve seen before. When two scientists create a device that let’s them see through reality to a metaphysical world, they mistakenly open a door that risks unleashing horrible beasts on the rest of the world. Their experiment turns into a disgusting nightmare that would make Lovecraft himself proud as the film reminds you “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far” (Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu).
Eyes Without a Face – This French pseudo-slasher film, released the same year as Psycho, remains just as shocking today as it did all those decades ago. Directed by Georges Franju and starring Pierre Brasseur and Alida Valli, the film follows a mad doctor as he kidnaps and murders women in order to remove their faces and transplant them on to his disfigured daughter. In many ways the film is as grotesquely beautiful as it is disturbing and continues to be highly influential across the globe.
Stake Land – Director Jim Mickle’s second feature is an ultra low budget that combines vampire and zombie apocalypse stories in some incredibly unique ways. Starring Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Danielle Harris and Kelly McGillis, Stake Land follows survivors of a vampire apocalypse as they do everything in their power just to survive. Damici plays a bit of a badass vampire slayer, which Paolo is just learning the ropes. Both scary and sad, Stake Land is a character driven indie that is a must.
We Are What We Are – Jim Mickle’s follow-up film to Stake Land was even better and proved that Mickle is a director to watch. A loose and superior remake of a 2010 Mexican of the same, We Are What We Are is a film about family suffering from the lose of the mother. The father (Bill Sage), an old fashioned man, now must lay the burdens formally helf by his wife on his two daughters (Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner) and those burdens are unlike that of any normal American family. Just like Stake Land is ultra low budget horror drama is depressing, but you can’t look away as this family begins to buckle under the weight of their own traditions. Michael Parks also stars and he is always a welcomed presence.
Trick ‘r Treat - I love Trick ‘r Treat so much. I now watch it every Halloween alongside John Carpenter’s classic Halloween. It’s that good. This horror anthology directed by Michael Dougherty and starring Dylan Baker, Brian Cox and Anna Paquin is one of the most purely fun horror films to come out in the past decade. Featuring several short stories that are intertwined both in the editing and with characters has just about everything you could ask for and perfectly captures the spirit of the holiday.
The Devil Rides Out – Though some effects and storytelling elements may be a tad dated for some, this little known Hammer Horror classic directed by Terence Fisher and starring Christopher Lee, Niké Arrighi, Charles Gray, Leon Greene, and Patrick Mower gets that all good horror films need to have a certain kind of atmosphere to be effective. This is classic battle of good versus evil and has Christopher Lee in a rare role of playing a hero instead of one of his many classic villainous roles.
Splinter – Another dirt cheap monster movie, Splinter is directed by Toby Wilkins and stars Shea Whigham (on of those “you’d know him if you saw him actors”), Jill Wagner, and Paulo Costanzo. Whigham plays an escaped convict who becomes stuck in a secluded gas station with a young couple when a strange virus turns its hosts into a horrid creature. Similar to Carpenter’s The Thing is some respects, Splinter is a tightly paced, claustrophobic, and creepy monster movie and I love it.
Kill List – Upcoming British director, Ben Wheatley, delivered a morbid look into the darkness of a man’s soul with his 2011 horror-thriller starring Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, and MyAnna Buring. It follows two contract killers as one of them, a family man outside of work, becomes increasingly violent and spirals out of control. Like Martyrs, Kill List is a very dark film that can be interpreted in many different ways. The third act of the film is simply terrifying.
Pontypool – Possibly the most original take on the zombie film in the past couple of years, this Canadian horror film directed by Bruce McDonald and starring Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, and Georgina Reilly is really something special. Set almost entirely in a radio station where radio announcer, Grant Mazzy, tries to understand the chaos going on outside just by listening to the incoherent reports he is receiving from his colleagues and from the horrible sounds he is hearing. Is there a riot? Is it zombies? What is causing all this violence outside and with the crew of this small radio make it through the night alive? You’ll never guess what’s going to happen next in this highly intelligent horror film.
Wrong Turn 2: Dead End – The original Wrong Turn was a serivable slasher film about a couple of mutant hillbillies offing beautiful middle in the middle of the woods, both with this first sequel the franchise really stepped it up a notch and then a couple of notches after that. Directed by Joe Lynch, the film follows a group of people on a reality TV game show set in the wilderness, but of course the wood are home to a family of inbred mutant cannibals. This is a movie that’s for the gorehounds out there. Right from form the get-go the film pulls no punches and features grisly deaths throughout.
Santa Sangre – This might be the one that may be just too much for some casual filmgoers. Directed by one of cinema’s all time greats, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Santa Sangre is an abstract work of very surreal art. Though there is more a clear cut narrative that some of Jodorowsky’s other work like Holy Mountain (which I absolutely LOVE, but I can see why it might by an acquired taste), Santa Sangre cans still be described as very avant-garde. Starring Axel Jodorowsky, Adan Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell, and Thelma Tixou, Santa Sangre is not a film with a plot that I could succinctly describe. It is a film that to have to experience because it really is art and pure as art can come. Jodorowsky is really just a brilliant madman.
The Bay – This is a found footage horror film directed by Barry Levinson. Yeah, that Barry Levinson who directed Diner, The Natural, Rain Man, and Wag the Dog. The Bay is Levinson trying something outside his comfort zone and that is reason enough for one to give it a try, but it helps that it is a really well done film. Based on the horrifying real life parasite known as Cymothoa exigua, The Bay is a story about a fictional town being almost completely wiped out in the course of a day by the wretched little tongue eaters. Disgusting and genuinely creepy, The Bay is really successful little film from a director doing something outside his wheelhouse.
The Loved Ones - Directed by Sean Byrne and starring Xavier Samuel and Robin McLeavy, The Loved One is a violent Australian film that’s not for the faint of heart. A teen is kidnapped and tortured by a crazed young woman and her father as they hold a mock prom in their isolated home. Just when you think things can’t get any worse for Brent (Samuel) they of course get far more terrible. The relationship between the murderous duo is a fascinating one as you slowly learn more and more about them as the film goes one. You’ll never want to go to a school dance again after this.
City of the Living Dead – Directed by the “godfather of gore” Lucio Fulci, this Italian film is fun, gory, atmospheric, and stylish. It kicked off Fulci’s unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy, where the other two films will probably be included in later editions of this series of articles. It’s a bit silly at times, but it’s a fun zombie film that could only be made in the time and country that it was made. Some good Lovecraft references peppered in throughout as well are nice touch.
F (aka The Expelled) – I suspect that this is the least know film on this list and it’s a shame because this is a damn good British horror film. Directed by Johannes Roberts and starring David Schofield, the film follows a high school teacher, who is getting dumped on from almost every direction. His day only gets worse when he gets into a conflict with his daughter that might cost him his family and is job. Those problems soon take second fiddle to something even worse as Schofield begins to be tormented by several hooded kids. Eventually the faceless hoodlums become violent and begin murdering the few people who have remained at the school several hours into the night after the school day has ended. This is a dark, tightly paced, well directed and acted, film that I high recommend you seek out. Also features a really haunting and fantastic musical score.
Who Can Kill a Child? – This Spanish horror film directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador follows and English couple (played by Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome) on holiday. They arrive at their destination to find all the adults missing and the islands children stalking them. The kids turn violent and the couple must do whatever they can to survive. Adding to the peril, the wife is pregnant, which just makes their quest to survive all the more desperate. This is a harrowing film and you can imagine by the title and by the end you may have an answer to the question it asks.
Frozen – Let’s this out of the way first: I’m not talking about that wonderful Disney film, I’m talking about Hatchet director’s Frozen, so we should just let it go (wink). It’s just a coincidence that this is the third single location horror film on this list after Splinter and Pontypool, but is can be a wonderful challenge is low budget horror filmmaking sometimes and it pays off in spades in Frozen. The premise is simple as it is just a film about three characters played by Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, and Kevin Zegers as they are stuck on a ski lift after the ski lodge shuts down for the night. They’re only option is to find a way down or freeze to death over the next week while the resort is closed. Their escape is hindered by the cold, height, and a pack of wolves waiting for some tasty human meat to come down and that is where the horror lies. It’s a film that’ll have you asking, “what would I do in this situation?” and “how quick would I start to turn on my friends?”. This is a horror movie that relies on tension and sound design as opposed to gore and jump scares and shows Adam Green’s potential after doing the fun Hatchet films.
The Burning – This is just pure 80s. Everything about this movie is just so much of the time. This is a quintessential 80s slasher film, which was just a knock-off of Friday the 13th(which in turn was riding the coattails of Halloween). Directed by Tony Maylam and featuring some gory makeup effect by famed special effects makeup artist Tom Savini, The Burning is just a blast of a film, with a memorable villain named Cropsy. Fun fact: a young Jason Alexander’s very first feature film role.
The House of the Devil – The film that put Ti West on the map, The House of the devil is a brilliant throwback to low-budget 80s horror. Shot to look like it was done with grainy film stock used in the early 80s, the film gets the tone and look of the time perfectly. A college student takes a baby-sitting job, but finds out the job is more than she bargained for when the house’s owners turn out to be members of a satanic cult. It’s a slow burn that racks up the tension to a big climax. The film features the great character actor Tom Noonan who excels at playing both a kindly and creepy older gentleman. The House of the Devil is the first great film from one of horror’s best young minds.
Cheap Thrills– What would you do for five bucks? Ten? A hundred? Ten thousands? Would you say something that’ll get you slapped in the face? Would you vandalize a neighbor’s house? Cut of a finger? Those are the questions that the characters played by Pat Healy (The Innkeepers) and Ethan Embry (Can’t Hardly Wait) have to answer when they meet David Koechner (Anchorman) and his wife Sara Paxton (The Innkeepers) at a bar one night. The film is darkly funny and equally twisted. Pat Healy gives a layered performance as man that’s always gotten the short end of the stick and never done anything about it, but may finally step up under some insane circumstances. Cheap Thrills by E.L. Katz is a mean little piece of fascinating thrills that leaving you asking “what would I do?”.
The Werewolf– A stranger comes into town on a dark night, lost and confused. He runs afoul with an angry drunk and the wino winds up dead. It looks like an animal attack, but no one knows what kind of animal and where the stranger went of too. It sounds fairly generic, especially with such a simple title, but this 1956 B—movie is better than you’d think. Great makeup effects plus a 50s sci-fi twist on the classic werewolf myth and better character work than most genre films of the period, the film is a cheesy fun way to spend 79 minutes.
Monkey Shines – From master of horror George A. Romero, Monkey Shines Alan Mann played by Jason Beghe (Chicago Fire), who is rendered quadriplegic after a tragic accident. A friend of his, a scientist, gives Alan an unusually intelligent capuchin monkey to help him out. The monkey isn’t just unusually intelligent, but hyper intelligent due to medical experimentation. The monkey, Ella, quickly becomes attached to Alan and overly protective of him. Due to the experiments, they unknowingly become linked telepathically linked and Ella acts on the angry feelings that Alan never would act on in a million years. Alan eventually becomes a prisoner in his own home and is helpless due to his condition. His inability to move is a simple, yet highly effective way to create a ton of suspense throughout the film.
The Dentist– From director Brian Yuzna (Society) and producer Stuart Gordon (director of Re-Animator and From Beyond) The Dentist is about exactly what you think it is. Corbin Bernsen plays a dentist who is pushed too far by his cheating wife and stressed filled job. He takes matters into his own hands and begins torturing and murdering anyone that his the misfortune of finding themselves in his chair. You know how you get especially squeamish with little things like nails being pulled or stepping on tacks? This whole movie is little things like that involving teeth and the mouth. It’s gross and it’s under the skin like any of the best Yuzna/Gordon productions.
Lake Mungo – A 2008 Australian horror mockumentary tells the story of the drowning of the 16 year old Alice Palmer and how her parents and brother deal with the events after her death. The film is highly atmospheric and a great slow burn. There are elements of a mystery as to why Alice is appearing in home videos after her death and what she was actually like in life as opposed to the face she put on for her family. More creepy and intriguing than outright scary, Lake Mungo should be a film that sticks with you for a while. It is also pretty interesting if you’re a fan of Twin Peaks and you start seeing that the entire film plays out like an homage to the classic series.
The Tunnel – An Australian found-footage film that follows a small investigative news team looking to learn the truth behind a possible government cover-up regarding a recent water shortage. They enter the sewer system under Sydney, but soon they see an emaciated looking figure lurking in the shadows. They lose their sense of direction in the labyrinth and realize that something is stalking them. The Tunnel is pretty damn terrifying. It’s claustrophobic, tightly scripted, and tense from beginning to end.
Eden Lake – One of several British horror films on this list today is 2008’s Eden Lake. The film stars Kelly Reilly as Jenny and Michael Fassbender (one of this generation’s greatest actors) and Steve, a young couple on a romantic getaway at a remote lake. Everything seems perfect until they have a run-in with some punk teenagers. Steve confronts them, but then decides that him and Jenny should just move further down the beach. The confrontation eventually escalates and turns dangerous as the teens chase down the couple with deadly intent. More brutal and disturbing than the initial setup might suggest, Eden Lake is a relentless thriller.
In the Mouth of Madness – The last good film John Carpenter made before he lost his mojo, 1994’s In the Mouth of Madness feels a little bit Stephen King-like in a few parts and a lot like H.P. Lovecraft just about everywhere else. As the title might imply, the film is about the nature of insanity and has a bit of commentary on the nature of horror storytelling. Starring Sam Neill (second time he’s been mentioned on this list) as John Trent, a fraud investigator looking for a horror novelist’s, Sutter Cane, final transcript. Cane’s recent novel has been a massive success, but there have been reports that it has been driving some readers mad. Trent travels to the town that inspired Cane, but soon begins seeing horrible visions and the line between real and nightmares quickly becomes blurred.
Psycho II – Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a classic, a masterpiece, and one of the most influential horror films ever made, so a sequel may seem like a crime against the art form. Surprisingly though, Richard Franklin’s 1983 Psycho II is not the horrid mess that many sequels to classics like The Exorcist II and Jaws 3 are. After 22 years in an institution, Norman Bates is released and returns to the infamous Bates Motel. He tries to lead a normal life and shed his “Mother” persona, but bodies begin to pile up and Norman starts to feel a little mad. Of course it’s not nearly as good as the original (despite what Quentin Tarantino thinks. He actually prefers the second one), but this sequel is an entertaining twist filled psychological thriller. Anthony Perkins returns to the role of Norman and he’s just always great.
Inside – From directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, this 2007 French film is one of the most relentless and grisly horror films ever made. Weeks after being involved in near fatal car accident and losing her husband, a young pregnant woman, Sarah, answers the door the door to a strange woman late at night. The woman begins harassing Sarah and is quickly escalates. It becomes clear that this woman only wants one thing: Sarah’s baby… Sarah is brutalized and fights to survive as anyone else who enters her home as a potential savior meets a gruesome fate at the hands of the deadly home invader. Dark, bloody, and non-stop, Inside is one of France’s best modern horror films.
Dog Soldiers – More British horror from The Descent director Neil Marshall in the form of Dog Soldiers. Essentially it is a low-budget Predator with the alien hunter swapped out for a family of werewolves. While on a training exercise, a squad of British Army soldiers is left out in the middle of the woods and is forced to duke it out with the pack of monsters. Gory, fun, and really well directed, Dog Soldiers is a blast. Many of you reading this have also seen the director’s work in the Game of Thrones episodes “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall”
Excision – Starring 90210’s AnnaLynne McCord and directed by Richard Bates, Excision is a powerful and disturbing high school horror film. The film follows Pauline (McCord), a mentally disturbed high schooler, with hopes of becoming a surgeon. There are several expertly shot dream sequences, soaked in blood and featuring confrontations with Pauline and her ideal self. Outside the dream, Pauline is extremely creepy as she emotionally scars everyone around. She very flippantly decides that she wants to lose her virginity and propositions a guy that’s tormented her in school. They meet at motel and what happens is sure to gross a majority of viewers out. After that Pauline becomes more aggressive in her acts and eventually does something that no one will forget…
The Lovely Molly – I watched the film on Netflix on a whim a while back, not knowing anything about it at all. That was a good call on my part because Lovely Molly is a super creepy ultra low-budget horror film. It’s incredibly subtle in the ways it attempts to frighten you and you’ll be uneasy for more of the film than not. Just watch, knowing that if you’re paying attention, it will pay off. Directed by Eduardo Sánchez, the mastermind behind The Blair Witch Project.
Deadgirl – Do not watch this on a date. I repeat. Do not watch this on a date. It won’t go over well. Or maybe give it shot, you may have an interesting night depending on whom you’re with. This 2008 high school horror film is gross and miserable. One day two boys, high school seniors who can only ever hope of finding a girlfriend, discover a naked woman chained up in a basement. They soon learn that this strange mute girl is not just a tortured woman, but that she is in fact a zombie. This is where the film gets really heavy and after deciding that neither of them can do it, they convince a jock to rape the so-called “Deadgirl” and it’s all down hill from there. The only way I could accurately describe the film is pure melancholy.
The Tenant– The third film in Roman Polanski’s thematic “Apartment Trilogy” following Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant is a paranoia fueled psychological horror film. Polanski himself plays a quiet, average man who moves in to an apartment after the previous tenant attempted to kill herself by jumping out the window. The landlord and the other renters begin to complain and chastise our protagonist for being too disruptive, when he is actually being anything but. The horror takes place in his mind as all these different outside forces start to come down on him and he begins to break. This one can only be described as mind-bending and features an unforgettable third act.
Berberian Sound Studio – British and psychological horror seem to be the unintentional theme of this edition with Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio starring Toby Jones. Jones plays a British foley artist, Gilderoy, who comes to Italy thinking he’s going to help with sound work on a film about horses. He arrives and soon learns that the film he is to work on is a giallo film. Gilderoy is new to horror films, so he is already out of his element being in this foreign country. Much like The Tenant’s protagonist, Gilderoy is an average and quiet man, who is needlessly thought of as greedy and rude by his Italian collaborators. All he asks is that he be reimbursed for his plane tickets, like he was told he would, but everyone gives him the runaround. From there Berberian Sound Studio becomes crazier and crazier as Gilderoy slowly becomes as insane and dark as the film he is working on.
Maniac – This 2012 remake of the 1980 film of the same name directed by Franck Khalfoun and stars The Lord of the Ring’s Elijah Wood as the film’s titular psycho. Shot almost entirely from the killer’s point-of-view, Wood’s character, Frank, is a shy and awkward man with a dark secret and even darker desires. His dimly lit home is filled with female mannequins. Frank murders women, scalps them (while most are still alive), then takes the top of their heads to place on his mannequins in order to give them personalities. Maniac’s violence is brutal, uncomfortable to watch more often than not, and horrifying to say the least. Wood is perfect as the awkward, yet menacing murderer, and by the end you may just feel like a maniac yourself.
The Children– Similar in premise to Who Can Kill a Child (which I mentioned in last month’s edition), The Children is yet another 2008 British horror gem about two families staying at a secluded home to celebrate the New Year. Everything seems normal at first, with some typical familial drama, but the young children begin to act very strange. They soon become sadistic and violent, which leads their parents to struggle with the fact that they either have to kill their own children or be brutally murdered by them.
The Fly II– I’ve written extensively about The Fly II for some reason, which you can check out right here. To make it brief I’ll just say that Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly is just about perfect in my mind and one of my ten favorite horror films and while the sequel isn’t as good, it’s a fun ride and much better than one might expect.
Ginger Snaps: Unleashed– Almost as amazing as the previously mentioned original, the sequel follows Emily Perkins as Brigitte Fitzgerald, Ginger’s sister, as she deals with the physical and mental toll that the events of the first film have taken on her. Just as impactful and raw in terms of pure emotions, this is a rare horror sequel that can hold its own with the best of them.
Braindead – Peter Jackson’s third feature and final outright splatter is arguably the goriest film ever made. On top of the insane over-the-top gore gags and gross out moments, it’s a wacky comedy, a dark familial drama, and a quirky romance. It’s an unforgettable film from on film’s greatest modern filmmakers. The film is more commonly known in America as Dead Alive.
The Prowler– Similar to The Burning in that is doesn’t really break new ground in the vast landscape of 80s teen slasher movies, but the film features some top notch makeup effects from the master Tom Savini. Not much more to say other than if you’re looking for a good slasher movie, The Prowler will satisfy.
The Stepfather – It’s soooooo good. Joseph Ruben, the director of Breaking Away and The Good Son, film from1987’s The Stepfather is such a fantastic work. Lost star Terry O'Quinn play’s the new stepfather to a young woman, who unbeknownst to the rest of the world, murdered his previous family and plans to continue his murderous cycle of entering and destroying families. O'Quinn’s performance is impeccable as the titular psychopath. The film was followed by two lackluster sequels and an awful remake in 2009.
Motel Hell– A pseudo parody of the horror films of the time when it was released in 1980, Motel Hell is a real cult classic. The unusual horror-comedy was ahead of its time in many ways and includes of the most bizarre images put to screen. The film’s killers, Vincent and Ida Smith, are an odd pair of farmers who capture innocent men and women and plant them in their garden, where they are fed until they are ready to be harvested and eaten. The sound of the heads sticking out of the ground will be embedded in your mind for a long time.
Humanoids From the Deep – Executive produced by the B-movie king himself, Roger Corman, 1980’s Humanoids From the Deep is an exploitive schlockfest about sea faring monsters with an urge to mate with attractive young human females. It sounds like it could be pretty offensive and it probably is, but the film is so much fun for that reason. Directed by Barbara Peeters, one of the few notable female filmmakers in the realm of 70s and 80s exploitation horrors, the film is the best of 50s B-monster movies mixed with the trashiness of the low budget 70s grunge horror.
A Tale of Two Sisters – A 2003 South Korean horror film from director Kim Jee-woon (director of I Saw the Devil) continues to prove that some of the scariest films come out of Asia. The film centers on a pair of sisters struggling with increasingly terrifying events surrounding them and their maniacal stepmother. The film is very creepy and unpredictable (unless you saw the crappy American remake, The Uninvited, in 2009)
The Hunger – A beautiful and haunting film from 1983 directed by Tony Scott and starring the great David Bowie and the now legendary Catherine Deneuve as a married couple of vampires living in New York. Susan Sarandon plays a doctor that Bowie needs help from when he begins to rapidly age, which leads to a chain of events that reveal that Deneuve has been hiding something deadly and Sarandon becomes entangled with this secret in some unexpected ways.
Alligator – This 1980 monster film directed by Cujo director Lewis Teague is fun satire of monster movie clichés that pokes a little fun at them, but at the same time uses them to great effect. With great effects work and an entertaining performance from Robert Forster, Alligator a real treat. The film also has the balls to kill children, something not normally seen in horror films like these.
Street Trash – Not a film for everyone, Street Trash is just as trashy as the title and poster would imply. Hobos melt in toilets and a severed penis is thrown around like a football in slow motion in James Muro’s 1987 cult classic. Appropriately disgusting while poking fun at homeless behaviors and all sorts of gross oddities on top of the super cheap production, Street Trash is a film that will turn off most, but it’s a corny good time.
Shutter – This 2004 Thai horror film by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoomis a twisty ghost mystery and is utterly horrifying. A photographer begins seeing strange shadows in his pictures and can’t escape en entity that is out to get him due to a mistake from his past. The film plays with your emotions as it becomes unclear who is the villain in the story, but it is always scary.
Trauma – Dario Argento, the Alfred Hitchcock of Italy and the master of giallo, delivered this creepy film in 1993 with his daughter Asia Argento starring. A killer stalks the streets and is decapitating staff members of a local hospital and Asia plays a women suffering from anorexia who is caught in the middle of it all and begins losing loved ones. The decapitations are graphic and the film shows the heads living on for a few seconds after the fact, which is an insanely creepy image. The film was one of the director’s last good films before the quality began to slip in the late 90s.
The Curse of the Werewolf– Surprisingly one of the only, if not the only, major werewolf works made by Hammer Films in their heyday. Directed by Terence Fisher and starring Oliver Reed as the cursed man, the film is a dark one that throws everything you know about the rules of werewolves out the window. After a lengthy setup where Reed’s character is the product of the rape of his mother by a tortured vagrant and the boy suffers from some unusual habits growing up, he grows into a seemingly normal man. One night he undergoes his full transformation and begins to kill. Bleak and high in emotions, The Curse of the Werewolf is on of Hammer’s best.
The Ghost of Frankenstein – Universal’s third Frankenstein film from 1942 isn’t nearly as talked about as the original two classics, but Island of Lost Souls director Erle C. Kenton delivered an exceptional film with Lon Chaney Jr. as the monster, Bela Lugosi as Ygor, and Cedric Hardwicke as Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein. Set years after the Bride of Frankenstein, the film see’s Frankenstein’s son return to his father’s home and finds that he blamed for the supposed cure of the Monster. The film was the last truly great serious take on the Frankenstein story for sometime and was also used heavily has a source of parody just as much as the first two in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (which shares the same general plot).
Afflicted – A Cronenbergian found footage film about two video bloggers traveling Europe. In France, one of them goes back to their room with a beautiful woman, but he is found alone and bleeding in bed when his friend busts in. In Italy he seems very ill and his symptoms becomes more and more extreme until he shows signs of superhuman abilities. When his hunger and aversion to sunlight become too much, it becomes very apparent what he is becoming. The film is able to pull off things using the found footage motif that do not seem possible to pull off in camera and on such a tight budget. The film is dramatic, exciting, scary, and one of 2014’s best. Read my full review here.
The Den – A creepy found footage film shot mostly on the desktop of a young grad student performing a social experiment on an Omegle-like website. While chatting with the usual online crowd she comes across what looks like a very real murder. She is slowly tormented with more and more frequency by unknown forces and seems to think that someone is out to get her and her loved ones. Creepy, memorable, and inventive, The Den is worth a look and a standout in an overcrowded subgenre.
Would You Rather – We’ve all played the game would you rather and in 2012’s film inspired by the game, things are taken to the next level and beyond. Starring Pitch Perfect’s Brittany Snow as a player in a sick game and horror movie icon Jeffrey Combs as the game master, Would You Rather sees a group of unsuspecting victims who wind up in a deadly version of the game. Increasingly brutal, set almost entirely in one room, and a film that successfully makes you ask “what would I do?”, Would You Rather is a surprisingly good little film. Combs is also wonderfully hammy.
Frontier(s) – The 2007 French horror film by Xavier Gens is almost on the level as Inside when it comes to horrific violence. A group of friends feels riots in Paris only to encounter a cannibalistic family, who proceeds to torture and torment the frightened group. Essentially a more violent French take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with some extra twists, Frontier(s) is one of the most extreme horror films of the 2000s.
Them – The 2006 French-Romanian horror film directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud isn’t the graphically violent French horror film that I’ve mentioned while doing this project, but it might be the most terrifying. The plot it simple as it revolves around a couple be stalked and chased by hooded kids in and around their new home. Suspenseful and unrelenting, Them is truly thrilling.
The Girl Next Door– This 2007 film was directed by Gregory Wilson and based on a novel by Jack Ketchum. Like the best Ketchum stories, the film is dark and incredible ugly. The plot is simple, but the morality of it all is complex as it tells the story of a teenage girl who is trapped and tortured by her aunt as the neighborhood kids watch and don’t know how to deal with the morbid situation.
Offspring – Another dark tale from the mind of Jack Ketchum, Offspring is a 2009 film directed by Andrew van den Houten. The film follows a married couple who have to protect themselves and their family from a small savage clan of cannibals. Since the film is Ketchum story, thing are not that simple as some of the protagonists might be just as monstrous as the cannibals.
May – A modern cult classic, the 2002 film directed by Lucky McKee follows the lonely May as she slowly loses her grip on reality in her attempts to gain more friends. May is one of the most interesting and damaged characters from any horror from the last decade and the morose film ends with one of the creepiest images ever put to screen.
The Hills Run Red – A little known film, 2009’s The Hills Run Red by Dave Parker follows a group of teens as they search for a long lost horror film, which is supposed to be one of the best and most grisly slasher films ever made. Instead of the film, they find the real life killer that the film was possibly based on. The Babyface killer in the film should be and would’ve been a modern slasher icon had the film gotten a proper release, but it’s available and should be checked out by horror fans. The film also subtly draws connections to real life quest that all die hard horror fans go one to find smaller films and obscure gems that they’re only heard of in magazines, on reddit, or in podcasts. That quest is something that exists almost exclusively for the horror genre (there might be some that search for old sci-fi, foreign films, or pre-code Hollywood movies, but horror is the big genre for searchers).
The Exorcist III– It would probably be easy to write off The Exorcist III since the original ranks high up on the list of the greatest horror movies ever made and The Exorcist II: The Heretic is one of the worst films ever made, but III ignores the first sequel and is a real horror movie gem and has a pretty sizable cult following. Starring Oscar winning actor George C. Scott as the Lieutenant William F. Kinderman character from the original film (who was played by Lee J. Cobb in the original) as he investigates a string of religious themed murders near a psychiatric hospital where a mysterious patient claims to be a long dead serial killer. The film is directed by the writer of original two novels and screenwriter of the original film, William Peter Blatty, who shows great restraint as the film continually builds and is remarkably tense throughout.
Thale - Aleksander L. Nordaas’ 2012 Norwegian supernatural horror film is a super creepy tale (pun intended) about two men who find a speechless woman with a tail. There is a mystery here to the big picture going on and to how this woman ended up trapped in this basement, making the film a very compelling one. Outside of the dark basement where most the film is set lays something very creepy out in the woods.
Severance – A horror comedy that can be described as the British version of The Office meets Friday the 13th. A company team-building retreat, a group of co-workers end up being victims of a small group of psychopathic serial killers. The film’s general plot makes it sound like something we’ve all seen a hundred times before, but Severance stands above many modern slashers due to its dry and dark British wit.
Idle Hands - A 1999-horror comedy directed by Rodman Flender and starring Devon Sawa (Final Destination), Seth Green, Elden Henson, and a young Jessica Alba. Sawa plays a high schooler finds that his right hand is possessed after it kills his parents and his two best friends and he has to stop it before it can kill anyone else, including the next door neighbor girlfriend. The film is so over-the-top 90s in a way that will make it a very fun, albeit dumb, nostalgic experience for a lot of people of a certain age.
Maniac Cop 2– Even better than the original, 1990’s horror sequel by Maniac and original Maniac Cop director William Lustig returns to continue the story of the vengeful undead Maniac Cop Officer Matthew Cordell, who continues to reek havoc on the dirty streets of New York. Die Hard’s Robert Davi as Detective Lieutenant Sean McKinney takes over the lead from Bruce Campbell as the man with the tall order of catching the unstoppable killer, who is even more bloodthirsty than he was in the original.
Stitches – If Asian horror movies are usually destined to be really friggin’ scary and Australian horror movies turn out to border on nihilism more often than not, then modern British horror movies have two options; being dark and depressing like Eden Lake and Don’t Look Now or darkly humorous like Severance and 2012’s horror comedy Stitches by Conor McMahon. The film follows a group of teens who were a partially at fault for the death of clown at a birthday party in their youth and his return to murder them years later. The film is filled with some really inventive kills and good liners and who doesn’t love a good grouchy killer clown?
The Relic – Set in Chicago, The Relic from 1997 by Timecop director Peter Hyams is simply a super solid B-monster movie. The film a little bit Alien and Aliens, a little Predator, some Jurassic Park, and pretty much any monster movie you can think of thrown into a pot to make a fun monster bash that is ultimately a super solid guilty pleasure. Penelope Ann Miller and Tom Sizemore star in the two lead roles.
The Faculty – This underrated 1998 Robert Rodriguez film was penned by Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer screenwriter Kevin Williamson. With this film Williamson’s self aware hip high school horror film began to ware thin, but the film has just enough charm and wit to be fun time. The film was accused of ripping of many classics like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers but is really more of a loving homage. Beyond the fact that it is a purely entertaining 90s teen horror flick, the film has fantastic cast of young stars who mostly went on to have highly successful careers and are still thriving today (Josh Hartnett is currently killing it in Penny Dreadful).
Willow Creek – Bobcat Goldthwait doing a found footage horror movie sounds strange, given that his past work includes the phenomenal World’s Greatest Dad and the wonderfully dark God Bless America, but 2014’s Willow Creek is another winner from the comedian/director. It closely follows the Blair Witch formula, but the performances and the writing are very strong in this one and the film’s climax after a very extended take is insanely creepy.
Hour of the Wolf – Ingmar Bergman. The man is without a doubt one of the most legendary icons of world cinema and in 1968 he teamed with frequent collaborators Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann to make one of the closest representations of a nightmare that film has ever seen. Like any Bergman classic, the film is ripe with heavy drama and complex emotional tensions throughout and on top of all that, Sydow’s descent into madness is a gorgeous work of surrealist terror.
The Beyond – Easliy one of Lucio Fulci’s most popular films, The Beyond is an insane cult classic with some spetacually gory kills. The film follows a woman who inherits a hotel in New Orleans, not knowing that it is one of the gates of Hell and that everyone who enters will meet a horrible fate. Zombies, eye gouging, dog attacks, spider attacks, and a 6-shooter with apparent unlimited ammo abound in this Kind of batshit and super nonsensical film, making The Beyond is prime example of low budget Italian horror of the 70s and 80s.
Snowtown – This one is a bummer. Based on the true of one of Australia’s most infamous serial killers, the film is filled with scenes of implied pedophilia, incestual rape, and eventually (obviously) murder. The tone is bleak, the performances are pretty stellar, and the tone will leave you feeling sick to your stomach, even if much is left to your imagination. The film was released in 2011 and was directed by Justin Kurzel.
Frankenstein’s Army – A World War II set found footage film. For Russian soldiers in the midst of war, you might ask yourself how they got a hold of such a nice camera that records sound and shoots colored film, but after a few minutes you’ll forget about it since the creature effects are nuts. A Nazi grandson of Victor Frankenstein is creating an army of reanimated corpses fused with deadly bladed weapons, leading to some of the most memorable movie monsters of the 2010s.
The Town the Dreaded Sundown (1976) – Released two years prior to John Carpenter’s Halloween, 1976’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a early slasher film that is not talked about nearly as much as it should. Loosely based on the true story of the Phantom Killer in the town of Texarkana, Texas in 1946. The silent masked killer is very much a prototype Jason Voorhees and true crime have of the film makes it really stand out from the huge number of slasher films that would inundate theaters throughout the following decade.
Citadel – 2012 Irish psychological horror film written and directed by Ciaran Foy about a widowed father suffering from agoraphobia, who has defend himself and his baby from a faceless gang of hooded people. The film is another bleak one that is a good companion piece to 2010’s The Expelled. Citadel is an incredibly tense and layer thriller, with an impeccable leading performance by Aneurin Barnard. For a director’s feature film debut the film in extraordinarily mature work that deserves more attention.
The Cottage – A British horror comedy from 2008 by director Paul Andrew Williams and stars Andy Serkis, Reece Shearsmith, Jennifer Ellison, and Steve O'Donnell. Serkis and Shearsmith play a couple of brothers/criminals, whose kidnapping goes south when a crazed killer attacks them and their hostage. The film is darkly funny and makes a good companion piece to Severance.
The Kindred – An ultra low budget monster movie from 1987, Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow’s The Kindred is a super entertaining effects filled romp. When a medical researcher’s mother dies, he, his girlfriend, and his team go to her home to uncover the secrets of her research, only to find that she created something truly horrific. The characters in the film are all exceptionally likeable, which is odd for a film of this kind and there really is no accounting for why they are so easy to like. You don’t want them get killed off, which goes a long way to make the film an exciting ride. The film also features Oscar winning actor Rod Steiger in a supporting role.
The Dark Half– Directed by George A. Romero and based on a story by Stephen King, the film is similar and far better than Secret Window. It sees Timothy Hutton as a King-esque author, who “kills off” the pseudonym he has been using for most of his very successful career. Shortly after that decision, someone that looks just like the author begins killing people involved with the man and his publishing. Hutton is great and the movie is appropriately Stephen Kingy.
The Awakening– A 2011 British film directed by Nick Murphy and starring Rebecca Hall and Dominic West. Set in 1921, Hall plays a paranormal investigator who doesn’t believe in the supernatural and wishes to disprove claims of ghost. It is an interesting setup and different than the usual haunted house film and the plot goes on to be a surprisingly layered and complex one.
Q: The Winged Serpent – Directed by Larry Cohen, the director behind such classics like Black Caesar, The Stuff, and the It’s Alive trilogy, Q from 1982 with stars Michael Moriarty and David Carradine is B-movie gem. The effects may leave much to be desired for some, but the stop motion Quetzalcoatl monster is a fun throw back. On the surface the film is a fun monster movie, but Moriarty shines as a paranoid and smarmy crook.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) – Not a remake and not a traditional sequel, this 2014 slasher film is a strange hybrid of the two and that is a major reason why Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown is special. Set in modern day Texarkana, where the original film is screened every Halloween, the film finds the town rocked by copycat killer or maybe even the original Phantom. The film is produced and conceived by Ryan Murphy and pretty much everyone behind the camera is a crew member of American Horror Story, so many there are many stylistic similarities there. The film is very respectful to the original and seeing 1976 cult classic will only enhance your appreciation of the new film, though it is not essential. Some might not see passed its slasher movie trappings, but it’s an old school slasher film that they don’t make anymore, so fans longing for the good old days of masked killers hacking teens will have an excellent time with this one.
Mad Love – Directed by Karl Freund (who was the DP of Dracula) in 1935, Mad Love tells the story of doctor (played by the great Peter Lorre) in love and obsessed with a woman he can’t have and his devilish plans to eliminate the man in her life. The doctor performs surgery on the woman’s lover interest after his hands are mangled. He wakes from surgery and finds that he is an expert knife thrower. There are twists, high drama, and a suspenseful climax, which all add up to Mad Love being an under appreciated classic.
Curse of Chucky – Everyone has seen all the Child’s Play movies, but 2013 saw the release of the franchise’s first straight-to-DVD feature, so it may have slipped under some people’s radar. The goal of the film was to steer the series back to it’s darker roots after the previous films digressed into board comedy (although that doesn’t mean they were bad. Bride of Chucky is arguably still the best). The film successfully reinvigorates the franchise and makes Chucky threatening again. It is still fairly funny at times, but it the darkest film since the Child’s Play 2.
The Brood – A classic film from the great David Cronenberg, The Brood is film about marriage and divorce manifesting themselves as horror. The film has big ideas about the power of the human mind and psychological trauma. Samantha Eggar and Art Hindle are the two leads and Oliver Reed co-stars as psychotherapist in one of his many great horror movie roles. Released in 1979, the film is one of Cronenberg’s first major releases after several much smaller films like Shivers and Rabid and it is one of his most outwardly scary films. Many ideas and stylistic choices of The Brood can be found in Scanners and Videodrome.
Found – Scott Schirmer directed this 2012 ultra-low budget film about a young boy who is obsessed with horror films and suspects that his older brother might just be a serial killer. Humorless in its execution and unrelenting in its depiction of violence, the film was banned from a release in Australia.
Opera – A relatively later Dario Argento film that certainly has one of the thinnest plots and some of the most nonsensical characterization from the director, but what it lacks in story, it makes up for in uncomfortable imagery and brutal violence. The lead character is forced to watch grizzly murders while needles are taped under her eyelids to keep them open, which a surprisingly nauseating image that could only come from the mind of the Italian master of horror.
Blood and Black Lace – Directed by the legendary Mario Bava, Blood and Black Lace is the father of all giallo films that came after. Every troupe that would become common in the genre can be found in this film and fans of later Bava works, Argento films, some Lucio Fulci films, and many more will see it’s influence everywhere.
Grabbers – A 2012 Irish monster comedy from director Jon Wright is a fun film in vein of Attack the Block. The general plot revolves around a small town being attacked by a large tentacled beast and they only way to for the townsfolk to protect themselves is to have as much alcohol in their blood. Needless to say, the whole town getting drunk leads to film to be funnier than the average monster movie and the high production values of such a small film really make it stand out.
Wake Wood – A modern Hammer Horror film from 2011 stars Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, and Timothy Spall. The premise is vaguely reminiscent of Pet Semetery as a mourning mother and father use a pagan ritual to bring their daughter back from the dead. The performances are strong and the film is moody as Hell as it harkens back to some old school European horror with modern day horrors visuals.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes – Never officially released (but it’s coming at some point), this indie mockumentary is deeply unsettling. Directed by Quarantine and As Above, So Below director John Erick Dowdle, the film tells the story of a serial killer that kidnaps and tortures his victims in the small town of Poughkeepsie. The killer often films his deadly deeds and those offer many of the film’s more disconcerting sequences. The acting is a little hammy at times, but the film is very effective and will stay with you for some time.
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy – An epic 4-hour documentary on the entire A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise that features cast and crew interviews from a majority of the key players from the legendary films. The stories found in the doc are incredibly engrossing, highly informative, and very honest. The origins of Freddy, the films’ impact on pop culture and film, and much more is explored at length and even the lesser film’s in the series are given their due. The commentary on Elm Street 2 is particularly hilarious at times.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh – The 2013 feature film debut of Rodrigo Gudiño follows a young man who returns home after the death of his mother. The film is one of grief, loneliness, and regret and is tightly scripted by Gudiño. The lead of the film begins seeing something in and around the house that frightens him to his core and it is an image that is utterly creepy (albeit a little to CGI-y later, but it still manages to work).
Bubba Ho-Tep– An elderly Elvis and an elderly black JFK versus a cowboy hat wearing mummy should be enough to sell anyone, but when Elvis is played by Bruce Campbell and the film is directed by Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli, then it really becomes a must see. Campbell is at career best as a depressed and forgotten Elvis, who needs a walker and has a growth on his “pecker”. He gets one last chance to do something good in his life when he learns that a mummy is loose in the old folks home and is sucking souls. It’s a wacky setup, but the film is surprisingly heartwarming and Campbell really gets to show his real acting chops.
The Sacrament – A slow burn and atmospheric found footage film that is loosely inspired by the real life Jonestown Massacre. The Sacrament is directed by the wonderful Ti West and stars You’re Next stars AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, with Kentucker Audley and Gene Jones as the charismatic leader of the cult who a Vice news crew is documenting. The film builds and builds to a dark and disturbing climax, much like West’s previous outings The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Jones is stellar as the manipulative and intelligent as you can understand why many of his followers left their previous lives to join him on this secluded island colony.
You’re Next – I’m well aware that most horror fans have probably seen You’re Next, but I’m going to cheat and point it on anyway since it wasn’t huge at that box office and I love it. It’s soooooo friggin’ good. It’s funny, gory, scary, thrilling, surprisingly, subversive, and everything you want in a horror film. Just watch it if you haven’t seen it.
“Dance, my little precious, dance!” Pennywise squeals as he kicks his legs out, one after the other in the most grotesque and jarring of jigs. He stands behind you, guiding your movements along with his own, like a puppet muster with your limbs attached to imaginary strings. Your body jerks this way and that way, being manhandled roughly and without finesse. One wrong movement, just one sudden yank, and you’re sure your arm will dislocate from your shoulder. You move along as best you can, trying your damnedest to match his superhuman speed and ferocity to avoid the seemingly unavoidable injury that is bound to happen if he keeps this up for much longer.
You hate it when he gets like this, which is usually after he feasts on some sorry preadolescent urchin. He always returns on a high, squealing and yapping, prancing and pouncing. He is like a hurricane entering land, tearing everything in his path, bursting through the side door of the wagon where you are kept chained to its wheel. The sound of hysterical laughter and high-pitched howls precede him, and when his bloodshot yellow eyes finally fix upon you, you know what you’re in for. The stench of blood and pain overshadows the usual scent of cotton candy and popcorn that usually emanates from him. He lunges for you then, and though most times you end up in some twisted, contorted position crying and moaning in pleasure and pain, sometimes you end up like this, becoming his marionette. Like a rag doll, you’re yanked in all directions as he dances his high away. And still, when he’s spent and sitting wide-legged on the wooden floor of the wagon, he reaches for you. The end game is always the same: Mania culminates in ferocious fucking.
“You’re not dancing!” he yells, stopping suddenly and turning you forcefully to face him. His bloody face is only two inches from your own, and his sulfurous eyes burn into yours. You try not to gag, partly at the stench of death on him, partly out of vertigo.
“You call this dancing?” you manage to pant, turning your head away. Even the stench of the sewer beyond the confines of his tower would be preferable to the one he carried now.
He glares at you for a few seconds longer, then he pouts and shakes his head in disdain, the bells of his clown suit jingling. How dare you refuse him! Or challenge him! You, the little toy he kept for his own amusement, actually had the gall to defy your captor. A growl begins to build in his throat, its deep vibration shaking you to your very core. One wrong step, and he wouldn’t think twice of snapping your neck, or even worse, tear your traitorous windpipe out of throat and wear your guts for garters. You get on the bad side of the clown, and you end up floating twenty feet in the air with the rest of his half-eaten prey.
“Can I show you something different?” you say coyly, lowering your head in submission but looking up at him. You smile sweetly, and reach out to take his hand. He looks down at your hand clutching his, looks back up at you, and you nod reassuringly. Your invitation is genuine. You know he has moments when he is playful, sweet even, like a petulant child reveling in the scraps of attention given to him. But then, just as quickly, he can snap. You know your survival thus far has depended on those moments in which you manage to keep him placated. Will he now be the monster, or the playful child?
Slowly, the corners of his mouth begin to twitch, and the most mischievous smile plays on his lips. Your own smile grows wider, and the two of you giggle in unison. His eyes shine when he notices the twinkle in yours and he knows just exactly what idea has sprung in your head. He always does.
“I’ve never danced the waltz” he says, half embarrassed “it seems so… dull”
“That’s because you’ve never had a partner” you quip, taking a step closer. He goes to grab you, but you take a step back. His smile is instantly gone.
“Uh uh” you tease “first you must… you know… take care of that” you say, wiggling your finger at his bloodied mouth.
“Ah!” he exclaims in his childlike voice. He lets go of you, and shakes his body vigorously. Then, instantly, all traces of his meal are gone. His face and suit are clean, his hair is perfectly coiffed, and he once again smells of sweets and butter. Like a walking circus, you think to yourself, a smorgasbord of delicious and enticing temptations.
“Ta-da!” he exclaims, throwing his arms out in an exaggerated gesture, causing you to laugh.
“That’s more like it. Now, put your arms around me” you instruct, and take hold of his right gloved hand and place it at the hollow of your back. Your right hand now takes his left, and he instinctively pulls you in close, so suddenly that your noses almost crash into one another’s. For a moment you remain thus, locked his in his embrace with his breath ghosting over your lips, noses nearly nuzzling. Your eyes drown in his, and were it not for his façade and restraint, you would be sure to lose yourself in the deadlights simmering within. Still, even after all this time, you wonder how you’ve managed to keep your sanity.
“Um…” you stammer, but you’re so close, so engulfed by him, that if you surrender and close the inch between you, dancing would give way to the inevitable end. But not yet. You do not wish to lose this moment in which the monster is tame just enough to enjoy the calm that hides beneath the tempest of his nature. You feel jolts of electricity spark and sputter deep in your belly, sending waves that pulsate out to your brain and the tips of your toes. He is standing so still, his hold on you firm and unwavering, his gaze fixed and unblinking. You want to, no, need to give in…
“Follow my lead” you manage to get out, and a faraway voice in your head marvels at how you managed to keep your composure. He is teasing you, just as much as you are teasing him. A thin line of drool begins to slide down his bottom lip. You take a step forward with your left foot, and his right foot goes back.
“Now move to your left with me” you instruct as you slide to the right, and he joins you.
“Now with the opposite foot, your left, you go forward and I go back with my right”
He is focused on the footwork, no longer looking at you. When your feet join once more on the third step and you slide back to the first position, his eyes go wide with understanding.
“Like a square!” he exclaims, sounding like a four year old preschooler.
“Exactly” you laugh. God, he could be so fucking adorable sometimes. Damn him.
“Let’s do it again” he says and begins the routine. “Right back, step left, together, now left front, step right, and together again”
“Oh wow, you got it! Now, follow the same routine as we move around”
Slowly, you make a turn around the small wagon. Then another. As his movements become more fluid, he smiles and laughs happily in his throat. He begins to pick up speed, and soon you are nearly flying around the small space. Suddenly, he lets go of you, and you nearly stumble. His mouth and brow are pursed in discontent.
“That isn’t right” he mutters.
“What’s wrong?” You ask alarmed. Oh no.
“Music’s not right” he says. Your eyes widen with realization and nod. The calliope music that is currently blasting through the tower stops, and he now stands with one foot tapping in unison with his index finger that taps his lip. He is thinking of waltz music, but can’t really place it, or recall it.
“Da da da dum… ting ting” you hum, remembering the classical piece with which you once learned to waltz, standing on your father’s shoes as a small girl. A pang of sadness hits your heart, but you quickly brush it away. Pennywise’s eyes go wide, he sticks his finger in the air, and his mouth opens in a wide, toothy smile. As if on cue, the beginning notes of Tale as Old as Time begin echoing off the walls of his tower. Your hands go to your mouth in shock.
“How do you know?!” you gasp, and he winks. Beauty and the Beast has always been your favorite fairy tale since you first watched it enraptured at the tender age of five. Now, a month shy of your thirtieth birthday, you stood before your very own Beast.
“Something is still wrong” Pennywise pouts, then he gives you the most lecherous grin. With a snap of his fingers, the tattered clothes you wear transform into the puffiest, sparkly, and most glamorous yellow ball gown. Your hair is now pulled into the prettiest half-do, and your feet are wrapped in gold slippers. You look down at your hands in amazement as a pair of immaculate white gloves materialize up to your elbows. You look up at Pennywise, and you are met with the view of a clown staring at you stupefied. His mouth is agape, and his eyes shine with adoration. You have no chance to react as he swoops you up suddenly, and he jumps out of the wagon, landing at the edge of his pile of keepsakes. His high-pitched laughter mixes with your own.
He places you on the floor, and pulls you against him once more.
“Now we can dance” he purrs into your ear, sending shivers through you. You say nothing, for no words were needed. Not now. You lean into him, and as the song begins to build, you let him lead. He waltzes flawlessly, and you and Pennywise begin to glide around the tower. The small waterfalls of water that fall into the cisterns around the structure begin to magically glimmer, and as you splash around in the puddles of the floor, orbs of silver light begin to float upwards from the ripples in the water. You are wrapped in a cocoon of silver white, and move transfixed, hypnotized by the way his eyes seem to shine brighter than ever before.
Around and around you go, and then much to your delight, he begins to twirl you. He holds on to your hand as you turn outwards, then pulls you back in and he lifts you high in the air, his joyous laughter causing you to soar higher, higher, higher, until you seem to be floating, only to be brought back down into the safe anchor of his arms. Without even realizing it, you begin to sing.
“Ever just the same… ever a surprise… ever as before… ever just as sure… as the sun will rise…”
“O0h ah ha ha ha ha ha… sing!” Pennywise exclaims “SING!”
The song now reaches its crescendo, and you feel weightless. Careless. Free.
“Tale as old as time… song as old as rhyme…”
He slowly brings the dance to a close.
“Beauty and the Beast” your voice fades, along with the song. The two of you now stand still, eyes locked, wrapped in each other’s arms. Your heart beats wildly, and if he had a heart, you would be damn sure its rhythm would match your own.
“So that’s the waltz” he breathes. All is quiet, save for the gentle stream of the waterfalls and the haunting lullaby of his prey floating above.
“Kiss me” you whisper. A small smile tugs at one of the corners of his mouth and he crashes his lips against yours. You finally allow yourself to become lost, you surrender to his magnetizing pull. You drown into the deep and delicious ocean of his mouth as the magic dissipates and his clawed hands tear at the aged and faded clown dress you normally wear. You welcome it, you crave it. This was your destiny, to become a prisoner of the creature that feeds on the youngest of your kind, the monster that haunted your dreams and now inhabits your waking.
Now, as your cries of ecstasy echo off the wooden beams inside the brightly lit circus wagon, tears of gratitude spill from your eyes. For no matter what horrors await you tomorrow, at least just for one night, you were a Beauty, and he was your Beast.