Tag Archives: halloween countdown

Thank you for joining the Halloween Countdown!

A huge thanks (and a cyber-hug) to anyone and everyone who dropped by Pussy Goes Grrr during our month-long horror extravaganza. It was a lot of fun, and please stick around for the rest of the year! There are so many horror movies we didn’t get to during October, so rest assured that we’ll be extending our coverage of the genre into every other season and will have a few new tricks up our sleeves in the near future. In the meantime, here’s a compilation of all 28 Halloween Countdown posts. Browse around, read about old favorites or forgotten classics you’ve never heard of, and feel free to leave comments anywhere. Yes, it’s an orgy of self-linking, but we just don’t want to let the Halloween season go!

  1. Announcing… The Halloween Countdown!
  2. Art in the shadows on my favorite image from The Seventh Victim
  3. Hawks/Carpenter/Lovecraft, a comparative study done for Radiator Heaven‘s John Carpenter Week
  4. Horror is everywhere (1) about looking for horror is unexpected places
  5. Sexy Nihilism in Onibaba, my addition to September’s Final Girl Film Club
  6. Demons and disability in Jacob’s Ladder bringing together Adrian Lyne and Joel-Peter Witkin
  7. German Expression in film posters with six awesome examples
  8. There’s something in the fog!, another piece for John Carpenter Week
  9. Happy birthday, Guillermo del Toro! complete with some beautiful images from The Devil’s Backbone
  10. Celebrity, Identity, and Perfect Blue on Satoshi Kon’s debut thriller
  11. “Don’t worry, Miss Blanche…” on a shudder-inducing moment from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
  12. Inject the Right One In about Abel Ferrara’s bizarre drug/vampire allegory The Addiction
  13. 20 Horror Faves, showcasing my votes for Final Girl’s Shocktober countdown
  14. Horror is everywhere (2), with an emphasis on the women this time around
  15. The Sounds of Violence, an extensive list of great scary music
  16. “Let her try it…” on a particularly weird scene from Freaks
  17. Om nom Blood Feast on Herschell Gordon Lewis’s extremely bad but gory classic
  18. Playing a game on James Wan’s seminal but forgettable Saw
  19. More Faces of Bela Lugosi with four more of Bela’s great performances
  20. Short Film Showcase: The Tell-Tale Heart (1953) with horror animation and the voice of James Mason
  21. Who you gonna call? about the ghostbusting Geraldine Chaplin in J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage
  22. Terror ahoy! on Val Lewton and Mark Robson’s spooky, homoerotic The Ghost Ship
  23. The House of Burgess Meredith on the 1970s satanist zombie madhouse The Sentinel
  24. Short Film Showcase: Creep on the best short films of FEWDIO horror
  25. The End Is Extremely Fucking Nigh as Cillian Murphy takes on a zombie-infested England in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later
  26. The Best and Worst of the Treehouse of Horror about the scariest/funniest segments of The Simpsons‘ Halloween specials
  27. Addicted to Fear, or Why I Am a Horror Junkie, an autobiographical reminiscence about influential horror images
  28. A last-minute Halloween treat containing seven tiny capsule reviews of horror movies

And how about some more scary fun? True Classics offers a Trick or Treat! selection of ghastly film clips; The Daily Beast has Martin Scorsese’s 11 scariest horror movies; Final Girl has Stacie Ponder’s seriously profound thoughts on Halloween; MUBI has a roundup of Scary Monsters and Super Creeps; and 366 Weird Movies has my review of the wonderfully weird silent docu-horror Häxan! So grab a handful of leftover candy and prepare to get scared. I hope you all had a safe, happy, spooktacular Halloween!

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A last-minute Halloween treat

Here’s a fun fact: I sometimes watch movies, but don’t write about them online. Right now, however, I’d like to correct that discrepancy. As October inches closer and closer to its official end (although really, October is just a state of mind), here are a few horror movies I saw during the past month that have yet to be discussed on Pussy Goes Grrr.

  • The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006): I’m a sucker for giant monster movies, having suckled at the teat of Godzilla, so I was naturally inclined to like this skewed take on the subgenre. It gets a little saccharine and manipulative every once in a while, but that’s more than made up for by the film’s warmth, humor, and political satire.
  • Psychomania (Don Sharp, 1971): I previously knew it only as George Sanders’ last movie. Turns out it’s also totally ridiculous, almost impossible to follow, and batshit insane. Sanders plays a butler; for convoluted reasons, his employer’s son commits suicide and comes back the same… only invulnerable. WTF! It’s amusing, but also really bad.
  • Red Eye (Wes Craven, 2005): This is less of a horror movie and more a standard psychological thriller. Assassin Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) plays mind games with a hotel manager (Rachel McAdams), his seatmate on a Dallas-Miami flight. Much of the screenplay is laughable – especially as the film approaches its finale – but Murphy and McAdams are professionals, and their back-and-forth achieves Hitchcockian levels of suspense.
  • Fright Night (Tom Holland, 1985): Chris Sarandon is a sleazy vampire who moves to the suburbs with his lover?/henchman; William Ragsdale is the teenage neighbor who pledges to defeat him; Roddy McDowall is the over-the-hill TV vampire hunter who helps him. It’s such a good-natured, fun-loving movie that I couldn’t help but love it. Kind of like John Hughes meets Goosebumps, but so much better than both.
  • Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009): Raimi finally returned to Evil Dead territory with fantastic results. Alison Lohman is a banker suffering from a gypsy curse who does a lot of bad, bad things in her effort to get rid of it. Unsurprisingly, it’s comically gory and self-consciously pokes fun at EC Comics-style morality tales; a very worthwhile return to form from an old master.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (Jack Sholder, 1985): Like entries 2 and 3 on this list, its storyline makes virtually no sense. Still, the underlying teen angst (and repressed but white-hot homoeroticism) make this sequel stand out, as does the Cronenbergian scenes of extreme body horror.
  • Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987): Holy shit, Clive Barker! What the fuck is your problem?! But seriously, this is a very different, very kinky kind of horror movie, maybe like a mix of Little Shop of Horrors, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Salò. Yeah, let’s go with that. It has a slasher plot about an undead sociopath manipulating his brother’s wife, but it’s all wrapped up in a bizarre, ultra-violent mythology about a race of hellbound beings who clean the doors of perception for their human clients. The film also has Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), who’s a very convincing final girl.

So there’s a taste of the other stuff I watched this month. Exciting! And with that, I say happy October and happy Halloween.

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Addicted to Fear, or Why I Am a Horror Junkie

It’s Halloween. The best holiday of the year. So I’d like to wax autobiographical for a minute here, and talk about my own personal relationship with the horror genre. If you’ve spent any time peeking around Pussy Goes Grrr, you know that Ashley and I are horror junkies. We crave all the neurochemical releases that accompany a good scary movie; few experiences thrill us more than discovering an new, bold horror masterpiece that scares our socks off. But, you may ask, where did this cinematic bloodlust come from? What childhood disease did we acquire that made us seek out things that scare us? If Andreas is so terrified of insects (it’s true!), why the hell would he intentionally watch any iteration of The Fly?

The answers, of course, are long and complex. I don’t even know all of them. Where do any artistic preferences come from? How do you account for any taste? But I would like to talk about a few childhood experiences that probably contributed to my critical idiosyncrasies. You see, a lot of my cinephilia stems from the kind of family I grew up in. When I was in elementary school, a common family activity was indulging in a VHS of some Universal horror, or a 1950s Vincent Price vehicle, or something bad like Plan 9. (My childhood arrived at the tail end of the VHS-and-video-store era, so despite being born in 1990, I still get to be nostalgic for their distinctively analog delights.)

As you can probably tell, my family’s viewing choices hewed to older fare, so I was inculcated into a very specific kind of old-fashioned horror fandom. John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and even George Romero didn’t mean much to me until after I started college; instead, as I grew to really appreciate scary movies, it was all about Tod Browning, James Whale, Roger Corman, and other such pioneers. But before my understanding of film became that sophisticated or auteur-centric, it was all about the images. That’s what I’m really here to address. Iconic horror movie images became displaced in time, space, and authorship. They become universal possessions of the collective unconscious. It’s a beautiful, mysterious process.

So: when I was little, we had all these books about horror movies sitting around. My father had accumulated them over the years, maybe from bookstores or thrift stores or book sales or forever. I still have the cover of John Stanley’s Revenge of the Creature Features Movie Guide burnt somewhere inside my brain. The books’ titles consisted of every possible permutation of the words “scary,” “horror,” “movie,”  and “guide.” Maybe, on occasion, “flicks” or “encyclopedia” would worm their ways into the titling algorithm. For the most part, they were generic compilations of short reviews, cast listings, and black-and-white stills. These stills were really the selling points: they were one-frame money shots, showing off the most hypnotic, gruesome artistry the movie had to offer.

They were also one of my first exposures to horror’s perverse, forbidden, slightly erotic pleasures. Horror movies showed me deformed faces, exaggerated bodies, and every other conceivable mutilation of the human form – all with a strangely sexualized twist. Even though all of pre-1968 cinema was supposed to be clean and safe for kids’ enjoyment, it actually contained festering, potent traces of sensual yearning and sinful desire. And, in its own illicit way, this unspoken aspect of horror was also very educational. I’m an outspoken advocate for the (usually) secret-but-pervasive sexual side of horror, and it’s partially because as I reflect on my childhood, I realize how profoundly it influenced me as a person.

Here are a few of those images. They’ve all taken on curious, shadowy lives of their own in the mind of pop culture. They’ve all acquired a set of meanings and associations in the years since they were created. And they all have strange and powerful significances to me as an individual.

There is so much I could say about Bela Lugosi in Dracula. It’s the role that defined his career, and the film set the stage for every horror talkie that followed it. It also codified the image of an aristocratic, caped vampire. It has enormous resonance for me – in fact, resonance above and beyond almost all other horror movies. I can’t help it. It’s not because of how well it’s made; that’s a nonissue with Tod Browning films, and there have been far better adaptations of the source novel. (Like, say, both versions of Nosferatu.) Maybe it’s some combination of the dilapidated castle, the Karl Freund camerawork, and Lugosi’s body language that drilled this movie into my brain. Despite his classical training, Lugosi always looked like such an outsider in American movies. Maybe the inherent pathos and tragedy of the Lugosi persona struck me through this movie. I couldn’t say.

This remains, I think, one of the most inexplicably compelling, mystifying, and disgusting images in all of film. Even going beyond Freaks‘ moralizing showmanship, just trying to look at it rationally… all logic fails when applied to this image. It appeals to something deeper than logic. This might be what draws me so forcefully to Tod Browning: even though his films are often nonsensical, amateurish, and tawdry, they nonetheless get to something in the bestial recesses of the human mind. Cleopatra’s incomprehensible, dehumanizing fate is so psychosexually loaded, because a “beautiful” woman has been forcibly and maliciously transformed into a voiceless, ambiguous being. It’s all intensified by the real question: how did the freaks do this?

I saw Janet Leigh’s screaming face years before I ever saw Psycho. Like the image of Freaks, it depicts a woman’s body being mutilated; it’s explicitly sexualized violence. But it’s also laden with intertwining threads of meaning. It’s not just an expression of unadulterated misogyny. (Those who pelt the horror genre with tired accusations of unadulterated misogyny are really underestimating the depth of these films. Although, of course, some horror movies are full of straightforward misogyny.) Consider part of Carol Clover’s argument in Men, Women, and Chain Saws: in a slasher film, the viewer is constantly shifted in identification between the attacker and the victim. It’s not just that we see ourselves in Mrs. Bates as she hacks into Marion, because we also see ourselves in the dying, shrieking Marion. It’s about fear and vulnerability. It’s about gender anxieties and sexual curiosity.

This is just a little hint of why I love horror so much, but the main reason is that I love to be scared. Yes, it’s perverse (in the truest sense of the word) and yes, it’s very counterintuitive. But fear is important and it can be useful. By watching something that scares you, you can learn more about yourself and your relationship to the world around you. I believe that for several reasons – industrial, aesthetic, and otherwise – horror is also sometimes capable of saying more than other genres. In short, I love horror movies. Happy Halloween.

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The Best and Worst of the Treehouse of Horror

As part of my pre-Halloween festivities, I’ve been watching Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. Well, I recently finished rewatching all 21 of them! Believe me, that’s not an easy task, especially since most of the later ones are something of a slog. Thus, to celebrate The Simpsons’ outstanding achievement in the field of horror excellence, here’s a breakdown of the worst and best “Treehouse of Horror” segments. (For the woefully uninitiated, each “Treehouse” episode consists of three segments, sometimes with introductions or interstitial jokes.)

The Worst

Pretty much everything after season 9 or so gets pretty mediocre, but a few late-season segments stand out as utterly abominable. Generally, it’s because they 1) think that “scary” means “has endless, meaningless bloodshed”; 2) think that “no rules” means “none of it needs any internal logic whatsoever”; and 3) they just aren’t funny, at all. Pretty bad offenders include “B.I.: Bartificial Intelligence” from Treehouse of Horror XVI, “Married to the Blob” from XVII, and “How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising” from XIX. Each one has numerous pointless deaths with little compensation in the form of, say, humor or wit. The last one is also completely incoherent – especially when compared to the earlier segment it’s ripping off, VI‘s “Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores.”

But for violent, unfunny incoherence, nothing can really top XVIII’s “Mr. and Mrs. Simpson” and XIII’s “The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms.” Here’s why: “Mr. and Mrs. Simpson” is just a one-note joke with no connection to Halloween in which Marge and Homer kill people and then try to kill each other. It’s also even more mean-spirited than the segment that precedes it (“E.T., Go Home,” in which Homer happily kills an entire army of aliens), as they murder Chief Wiggum and make love on his corpse. How did this turn into a particularly awful episode of Family Guy?

“The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms,” though, is somehow worse, beginning with its pun clusterfuck of a title, and continuing through its non sequitur-laced storyline. Lisa doesn’t know Billy the Kid’s real name? Billy the Kid opposed gun violence in his epitaph? Lisa can ban weapons, just like in Treehouse of Horror II, except now she doesn’t need the monkey’s paw? Cowboys can come back to life of their own volition? Five gun-toting skeletons is all it takes to conquer Springfield, and that merits using a time machine? Jesus, it’s just so bad, and negligible as entertainment. It’s fitting, I guess, that Treehouse of Horror XIII ends with Kang and Kodos making a cryptic “joke” about how a skull-shaped island looks like their number 4.

Granted, I think some enjoyment can be gleaned from later Treehouse episodes. The stylized homages that end XVII and XIX (of the 1930s and Peanuts, respectively) show a little artistry, and I think the ending of “Heck House” from XVIII makes it easily the best Treehouse segment of the past decade. Other than that, though, it’s a chore to get through joyless dreck like “Reaper Madness” or “Survival of the Fattest.” So let’s stop being so negative, and hit up the segments that are brilliant, hilarious, and nightmare-inspiring…

The Best

10. “Bad Dream House” from Treehouse of Horror I

The very first Treehouse segment, it reflects some of the growing pains that afflicted the series’ first couple seasons, but is nonetheless a keeper. It’s a parody of haunted house movies like Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror as the Simpsons move into an ultra-cheap house that happens to drip blood and whisper murderous thoughts into its tenants’ ears. The segment after it – “Hungry Are the Damned,” introducing Kang and Kodos – is also rich, but I’m a sucker for haunted houses, and Harry Shearer really wrings out the pathos in the house’s dilemma. (“Life with the Simpsons. What choice do I have?”) Marge’s outbursts, the interdimensional vortex, and the knife fight confirm the first-ever segment as one of the best.

9. “Lisa’s Nightmare” from Treehouse of Horror II

As I alluded to earlier, this segment sees the family trip to Marrakech lead Homer to purchase a wish-granting monkey’s paw, à la W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw.” I love how this episode gives every family member a chance to shine (except Marge) via their deepest wishes: Maggie for a golden pacifier, Bart for wealth and fame (which becomes a meta-fictional moment as the Simpsons grow too ubiquitous), Lisa for peace on earth (showcasing her naïve idealism, since it’s promptly conquered by aliens), and Homer for a turkey sandwich and nothing but a turkey sandwich. Great moments include the sharply satirical joke about escalating weaponry (“bigger boards and bigger nails…”) as well as Flanders’ happy ending.

8. “The Devil and Homer Simpson” from Treehouse of Horror IV

I recently wrote about The Devil and Daniel Webster, which this segment parodies; here, Flanders unforgettably stands in for Walter Huston as the Author of All Lies, complete with horns and a forked tail. Homer’s gluttony finally gets the better of him, as he eats an entire scrump-diddley-umptious donut in exchange for his soul. When he goes on trial for his soul, the Simpsons must battle Lionel Hutz’s sleazy incompetence and a jury of the damned. Hell is exceedingly well-animated here, as are Flanders’ demon henchmen, and the ending combines emotional sincerity with bitter irony. Just like the novel/movie it’s based on, “The Devil and Homer Simpson” sneaks plenty of commentary about the American family into its tale of infernal bargaining.

7. “The Genesis Tub” from Treehouse of Horror VII

This segment – based on “The Little People,” a Twilight Zone episode I’ve never seen – is disturbing in all the right ways. An improbable scientific mishap (static electricity + a tooth submerged in coke?) causes Lisa to accidentally create a microscopic civilization, which advances at a fast pace. Soon they’re experiencing religious schisms (“I’ve created Lutherans!”) and using spaceships to attack Bart in his sleep. It’s akin to the Futurama episode “Godfellas,” but gets the job done in 1/3 the time, and ends in the same unresolved fashion as many of the greatest Treehouse triumphs. “Citizen Kang,” the segment that comes right after “The Genesis Tub,” came close to making this list, if only for the politically trenchant line “I voted for Kodos.”

6. “Clown Without Pity” from Treehouse of Horror III

This is based on a Twilight Zone episode I have seen, “Living Doll” – which is scary as hell and stars Telly Savalas (both good things). It hits all the bases: it makes fun of Grandpa, references Gremlins, and attacks corporate irresponsibility. Like the best Treehouse segments, it also manages to be razor-sharp in its comedy and absolutely terrifying at the same time. Just look for the fangs on the Krusty doll, or listen for the nonstop flood of one-liners, like Kent Brockman’s pollution update, Patty’s deadpan reaction to seeing Homer naked, Krusty’s seduction of Malibu Stacy, etc., etc. – and all this in just 7 minutes.

5. “Homer³” from Treehouse of Horror VI

This segment is justly famous for its pioneering use of computer animation, but that’s not the (only) reason it’s on my list. Despite the laughs, which (like donuts) are plentiful, I found it intensely scary in my childhood, and that impression has not abated during the intervening years. While trying to escape Patty and Selma’s impending visit, Homer slips through a portal behind the bookshelf and gets trapped in the third dimension. I’m not sure why, but primitive 3D animation is inherently pretty scary. When it sort of collapses on itself, then it’s really scary. When it breaks Homer into fragments (including a mouth that goes on screaming “CRAP!”), that’s when we reach intensely scary, and when it drops Homer into real-world Los Angeles in the mid-’90s and rolls credits… well, that’s a conclusion that mystifies and terrifies me to this day. Which, after all, is what Halloween’s all about. Well done, “Homer³”!

4. “Terror at 5½ Feet” from Treehouse of Horror IV

Inspired by one of the great Twilight Zone episodes (the Shatner-starring “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”), this segment is damn near perfect and deeply, viscerally scary. As observed on the segment’s audio commentary, the animators succeeded in making the gremlin work within The Simpsons‘ established visual aesthetic, and that contributes a lot to the story’s success. The gremlin’s demonic appearance and behavior are even worse when mixed with Skinner’s doubts about Bart’s sanity, and all the hilarious little touches (Hans Moleman’s grisly death, the flares in Martin’s shorts, Homer’s air horn) make it that much better. And, whew, the ending. That’s just fucking nightmarish. “Heidily-ho, Bart!”

3-1. “The Shinning,” “Time and Punishment,” and “Nightmare Cafeteria” from Treehouse of Horror V

I already wrote a long, detailed essay on why I love this episode, so there’s not much else to say. Every time I watch it, I just sit back and marvel at the genius. I’m blown away by how the Simpsons writers and animators could integrate horror and comedy so well, packing so much dense, allusive humor into just 22 minutes, and I’m grateful that they did. This episode contains easily my three favorite segments, and every part of it – from the opening credits to the bloody musical finale – continues to scare the shit out of me.

So, what did I miss? (For starters, “The Homega Man.”) What are your preferred tricks and treats from the Treehouse canon? Comment below and let the world know.


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The End Is Extremely Fucking Nigh

From its first scene, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. It’s a film of extreme highs and extreme lows, often in very close proximity. With surprising swiftness, its characters travel from a wish-fulfillment shopping spree to a run-in with red-eyed zombies, and from a bucolic reverie to the loss of one of their own. Although it’s nearly two hours long, the film never really lets up, but that doesn’t stop it from including a few crucial character-building moments. As in much of Boyle’s work, this is humanity under the worst possible duress. (See: heroin addiction, poverty, being trapped under a boulder.) But it also retains a dark sense of humor and a sincere interest in human relationships as it explores life in England’s, nearly a month after its population is decimated by a zombie epidemic called the Rage virus.

The film follows a hardy group of survivors: Jim (Cillian Murphy), Selena (Naomie Harris), Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). Jim, who spent the titular period of time in a coma, is just as clueless as the audience, but quickly learns about the situation under Selena’s tutelage. After they meet Frank and Hannah, they reluctantly agree to drive toward Manchester, per the request of a mysterious radio message. Along the way, they gradually form a surrogate family – a notion literalized by the bittersweet image of four wild, uninfected horses running around a field. Emotional shorthand like this threatens to become cloying, but the actors are so good that they efface the screenplay’s rough patches. As important as the special effects and postapocalyptic environment may be, this is a film built on strong performances.

Alas, this also makes 28 Days Later an incredibly nerve-wracking film. The main characters are all so identifiable and lovable that it afflicts me with anxiety every time they step outside. Boyle does a good job of making the constant danger very palpable. Even though some zombie purists assert that the infected aren’t zombies, they fucking are, and their speed – scrambling and loping toward whatever or whoever they can destroy – perfectly suits this movie’s purposes. The tunnel scene, for example, is one of the movie’s most effective because of the zombies’ madly feral dash over the heaps of garbage; it drives home the humans’ complete vulnerability. So many have died already, including all the characters’ loved ones, that there’s no doubt about whether this is a life or death situation.

This unyielding suspense and emotional attachment combine to make an intelligent, self-aware rollercoaster of a movie. They also enable the film to makes its most profound statements. This is, after all, a film about surviving the most dire crisis imaginable – the end of civilization as we know it. Each character must determine his or her own priorities. The film doesn’t harp on this, but lets it evolve out of who the characters are: Jim, the newcomer, still holds vestiges of old world values like family and love; Selena, the jaded survivalist, both teaches and learns from him; Frank, selfless and gregarious, wants what’s best for the group (and especially his daughter); Hannah suffers from severe, ongoing PTSD and wants people around her to depend upon. Over the course of the film, they learn the price of having each other; they also come to enjoy simple, sensory pleasures – like, for example, raisins.

For these reasons, I find the film both thrilling and moving. I enjoy it in the same cathartic way that some people enjoy movies based on Nicholas Sparks books. Except 28 Days Later is much, much better. It’s also full of searing, sometimes prescient political commentary, whether about the government’s handling of the epidemic and its aftermath, or about the military compound where the film ends up in its third act. The treatment of Major West and his men, while still very dark, is slightly comedic; as played by Christopher Eccleston, West is a frazzled leader making promises he can’t keep and exercising his authority just to make sure he still has it.

The men, meanwhile, prove that even when civilization collapses, rape culture remains. Although only a few of the men are especially boorish and malicious, their self-aggrandizing machismo turns out to be more contagious than the Rage virus, and their behavior toward their guests is as much of a statement about the military mindset that the film needs to make. I’m consistently impressed by how well the film weaves together its tense, nonstop action and its many well-developed subtexts. It’s one of the most successful, insightful postapocalyptic films made of late and it still has time for one zombie attack set-piece after another.

Some other things I like about 28 Days Later: it’s integration of high-angle, surveillance-style cinematography with conventional shot/reverse shot patterns; its eclectic but never overbearing score; how it draws on Romero’s Living Dead movies and Matheson’s I Am Legend (as well as its film adaptations), but still marks out its own unique territory while saying “We are the real monsters” with more subtlety than Romero ever has; the fruitful invocation of haunted house movies during its climax; and, of course, the beautiful Cillian Murphy.

This film just preys so well on my fears and my loves. I can’t help but be strongly affected by it. As Jim wanders around an empty London, his surroundings reveal the panic that once consumed them; this is an apocalypse that feels believably lived-in. Boyle applies a certain strange realism to his zombie apocalypse, and maybe that’s what makes it so resonant. It’s a distinctly 21st century vision of horror. But it still hangs onto a little hope, billowing in the breeze. I’ll close on an optimistic note with a gratuitous picture of the beautiful Cillian Murphy.


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Short Film Showcase: Creep

Lately, Ashley and I have been enjoying FEWDIO Horror, a collection of short independent horror films. They’re of widely varying quality, but since most of them are 3-5 minutes long, it’s an acceptable time investment even if it’s got a stupid twist ending. This one, “Creep,” is my favorite. It’s very understated but also intensely creepy, and a great realization of an old urban legend. It shows what kind of great horror can be made with a minimal budget and a little bit of ingenuity.

For other really good FEWDIO shorts, I suggest starting with “Mockingbird” or “Bedfellows,” and from there you can jump around. They’re a fun, scary assortment of videos, and they’re a perfect example of how YouTube can be the ultimate tool for reinvigorating horror cinema. I hope this adds to the quality of your nightmares as October approaches its dark, grisly end.

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The House of Burgess Meredith

Emboldened by Jovanka Vuckovic’s favorite horror movies, Ashley and I went ahead last night and watched The Sentinel (1977). It’s a pretty weird movie, if not entirely successful, with a hodgepodge of disturbing imagery, plots that go nowhere, and all the veteran Hollywood actors the 1970s had to offer. It’s your typical gateway-to-hell movie. Alison (Cristina Raines), a model with some severe daddy issues, doesn’t want to marry her mustachioed boyfriend (Fright Night‘s Chris Sarandon) just yet, so she goes apartment-shopping in New York and finds a cheap, spacious place with no neighbors – other than a blind priest in the attic, some lesbian ballerinas, and a cat-obsessed Burgess Meredith who’s [spoiler] actually kind of Satan.

But Alison is not easily fazed. Even when the dizzy spells start, even when all hell breaks loose right above her ceiling, and even when her real estate agent proves that her neighbors don’t really exist, she goes on living there. However, when she hallucinates (?) stabbing her dead zombie father, that’s the last straw. And that’s when detectives Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken get called in. Yeah, if there’s one thing The Sentinel has, it’s big names of the past and future. Jeff Goldblum, on the road to stardom, shows up as a photographer; Psycho‘s Martin Balsam plays a Latin prof. I mean, Ava Fucking Gardner is the real estate agent!

I love how 1970s Hollywood had all these past-their-prime legends just sitting around, and could insert them into character parts. Need someone to play a slightly threatening monsignor in your slightly sleazy horror movie? Well, how about five-time Oscar nominee Arthur Kennedy? The upshot of this trend is that we get to see dozens of our favorite old actors in amusing if undignified roles. This is the basis for much of The Sentinel‘s entertainment value. The rest of it comes the creepy shit that engulfs Alison courtesy of Dick Smith’s special effects.

Much digital ink has been spilled about the climax, wherein a mob of giggling demons, led by hell’s emissary Burgess Meredith, follows Alison into the attic and tries to get her to kill herself. It’s scary, yeah, and it has some troubling ableist implications, but for me the creepiest scene comes about 45 minutes in. It’s the one that made Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments.” Alison wanders through the darkness, flashlight in hand, when something crosses her path. And hey, it’s that zombie father I mentioned earlier! The blood, the nose-hacking, and the naked female zombies make it that much worse.

So yes, The Sentinel has some scenes that made me curl up into a fetal position (while maneuvering my arms so I could still see the screen). Unfortunately, it feels like it was written by several people who weren’t on speaking terms, but each picked a different set of genre clichés to use. It’s ostensibly a psychological horror movie, but it veers off into a police procedural in its second act, then decides it actually wants to be a religious conspiracy thriller. The Wallach/Walken episode is the funniest manifestation of this disconnect, as they go from character to character, digging up extraneous but lurid back stories in generic cop fashion. (Walken only gets a few stray lines! That’s the real horror.)

But even though the parts don’t cohere into a sensible whole, The Sentinel is enjoyably ridiculous enough for me to recommend it. The all-star cast, the build-up and reveal as a septuagenarian John Carradine enters the picture, and Burgess Meredith’s sublime hamminess all paid out great dividends on the time I invested. When the movie finally gets focused, it manages to be a fairly terrifying, oddball foray into the demonic. You could say it’s the best 1970s apartment-centered horror movie that Roman Polanski didn’t direct.

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