Tag Archives: martyrs

The Past Decade in Horror, Part 2

By Ashley

About a week ago, Andreas posted his top 10 horror films of the past decade for The Montana Mancave Massacre and now it’s my turn up to bat. We spent quite a while discussing what we thought were the best horror films of the past ten years and then to narrow that list down even more while trying to avoid a lot of overlap between our lists. It wasn’t too hard: we’re both die-hard horror fans and love a lot of the same films but still have very specific tastes and things that appeal to us especially. So, without further babbling, here’s my list of the top 10 films from the past decade!

10. Grace (Paul Solet, 2009)

As I’ve shown time and time again, I am a sucker for pregnancy/infant/child related horror. Due to my own internalized fears about pregnancy and children, even the worst of this type of film could still chill me. Grace was an unexpected gem for me. After Madeline’s obsessive attempts to have a baby in a completely controlled environment fail, she gives birth to an undead baby who lives on Madeline’s blood. I thought it did well with the typical “evil baby, scary pregnancy” cliches. It could have gone in the direction of the It’s Alive remake and made the baby like a wild animal eating people’s throats out, but Grace offered up a much more subtle horror. We watch as this young, widowed mother literally lets herself be drained, physically and mentally, for the sake of her child.

9. The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001)

I was about 12 the first time I saw this movie and it seriously scared me; I slept with my light on for a few days afterward. As an adult, the film still chills me. Nicole Kidman gives a powerful, sometimes icy performance (which is kind of her thing but it really works here) as the long-suffering mother of two photosensitive children. I love The Others because it really is an old-fashioned haunted house story: large, dark shadowy manor, foggy woods, ghosts hiding behind curtains. Something else I love about it is how emotional the story and the characters are. I sometimes feel that horror films tend to shy away from tapping into the emotional potentials of the genre, as if being sad and being afraid are two mutually exclusive emotions. The twist ending may not pack that much of a surprising punch but what the climax lacks in creativity it makes up for in raw emotion.

8. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

Shaun of the Dead is one of the best zombie parodies ever. It manages to quite flawlessly mesh comedy, horror and romance. Shaun is so perfectly balanced: it never gets so cheeky in its self-awareness like some movies (cough *Zombieland* cough) that it renders the horror aspects of the film ineffective, and the romance doesn’t overwhelm the plot or feel shoehorned in. In any other slacker comedy, our loveable but lazy and ambitionless protagonist would learn to be more responsible and hardworking through a series of wacky events; in Shaun, he learns it through a series of wacky and terrifying events that involve beating zombies with a cricket bat, pretending to be the undead, and defending their very penetrable fortress of a pub.

7. Ils (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2006)

I love French horror and I love home invasion movies. Pretty simple. I live in mortal fear of someone not just breaking into my home, but fucking with me while they do it. Coming in and messing with a person’s home is such a violation; our homes are where we go to be safe and the idea of people entering it and making it dangerous is terrifying. This movie is often compared to The Strangers, which came out 2 years later, and in my opinion Ils is the superior film. Mostly because Ils is not fueled by an Idiot Plot; our two main characters don’t leave each other alone or get caught by the people invading their home because they make foolish mistakes. The only reason they (spoiler) get caught by their assailants is because they’re simply outnumbered. It’s so simple and so chilling.

6. The House of the Devil (Ti West, 2009)

I want more movies like this movie. I am the audience for this movie. Slow and atmospheric, it builds quietly, bides its time, gives the audience little jolts of fear but for most of the film deprives us of any release in adrenaline. It just builds and builds and builds, winding the viewer up tight with expectation. It’s a pitch-perfect throwback to the horror of the late ’70s and ’80s; it emulates all we love about that era’s horror flicks while managing to be a superior film than most of them. It takes some of the best horror cliches—Satanists, babysitter, scary house in the middle of nowhere, satanic pregnancy—and turns them into something new. It’s a weird, satisfying blend of familiarity and modernity. And I still maintain that “Are you not the babysitter?” is one of the most chilling lines in recent horror cinema.

5. The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005)

The Descent scared the ever-loving shit out of me even before we got to the scary, wall-climbing cave people: tight caves and crumbling rocks, claustrophobic sets, total darkness and total vulnerability and helplessness on the part of our characters. Scary shit, for sure. And then they get attacked by the creepy cave creatures. One of the things that sets it apart from other horror films is that not only is the cast entirely female, but most of them actually act like they like each other. You get the sense that these women are actually friends, not backbiting teenagers whose only defining characteristics are either “have boobs and die sexy” or “have boobs and be final girl” like we’re usually served up in typical horror. Even with Sarah and Juno, between whom there is a very palpable rift, you can sense that they’re at least trying to work things out. I have kind of a thing for bleak endings (some of my favorite movies include The Stepford Wives and Martyrs), so this movie, from start to finish, is right up my alley.

4. Oldboy (Park Chan-Wook, 2003)

Some people don’t consider this a horror movie and I’ll admit that it’s definitely got a revenge plot going on rather than a straight-up horror narrative. But I feel like often times revenge films (and especially South Korean revenge films) have lots of horror aspects. And in any case, this movie scared me pretty intensely. The very premise is scary enough; kidnapped and trapped for 15 years, no idea why, your captors never talk to you or tell you anything. And then you’re let go, again no explanation. Beyond that, all-consuming revenge is a concept that deeply frightens me: all you exist for, all you want, your entire identity is wrapped up in revenge. And then, in the case of our protagonist Dae-su, to reach the end of your endeavors only to find it was all for naught, that this was the plan all along and, worst of all, that you’ve been fucking your daughter. I’d cut my tongue off too. And that ending. Does Mi-do have any idea who Dae-su is? Has Dae-su really forgotten the truth about who this woman is? Or is he so desperate for love and comfort that he’s willing to pretend he doesn’t know, just to keep the love of his lover-daughter? Creepy, disturbing, intensely unsettling stuff.

3. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)

This is the only overlap between my and Andreas’s lists and it really can’t be avoided. Let The Right One In is undeniably one of the best, most powerful, beautiful films of this past decade, horror or otherwise. Since Andreas already discussed this film in his list I’ll keep this brief. Oskar and Eli are one of recent horror’s most deeply sweet and troubled couples. The quiet of this film is what gets me; it’s not full of screams and a pounding soundtrack. It’s so quiet that you can literally hear the snow falling in the opening scene. It’s such a full and complete quiet that when something terrifying does happen and someone gets their throat eaten or someone screams it’s like shattering glass. I could literally go on about this movie for days, so suffice it to say that I love Let the Right One In.

2. Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008)

Something else I love is the New French Extremity. I can’t explain why I love Martyrs so much. I saw it and didn’t sleep for about two days. Not because I was afraid but because the movie had affected me so deeply that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What was this movie trying to say? What was it saying about women and violence and religion and mental illness? Why am I so drawn to a film that doesn’t have a single ounce of joy or hope? Because Martyrs is not an enjoyable film; it’s an endurance test from start to finish. I guess one of the reasons why I love it, why I’m drawn to it, why I consider it one of my all time favorite horror movies is because, other than being a deeply terrifying film, every time I watch it I spend days thinking. I like movies that make me think and this one does that in spades. Ultra-violence and incredibly unsatisfying ending aside, it’s an intensely intellectual film in that it encourages (and sometimes forces) people to think about what is happening.

1. Inside (Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo, 2007)

Long time readers of this blog should already know that I am a big fan of this movie. I’ve written at length about it a few times. I’ve mentioned my deeply internalized fears of pregnancy and children and how that manifests itself as a deep fear and love of all horror movies involving pregnancy/infants/children.  Inside is everything I love about pregnancy horror: I love the way these horror films take the clichés about pregnant women and twist them through the codes of the genre, turning maternity into a horrifying perversion of itself. We all know the stereotypes about Mama Bears and snooty moms who bicker with each other and all that jazz. But once horror gets its hands on these ideas, bickering turns to terrifying stalking and bloody show downs and pregnancy turns into an all-out, no-holds-barred war. And frail little Sara’s hugely swollen, vulnerable body is the battleground.

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Gives me the willies!

Ashley:

I <3 scary movie lists. So, I got super excited when I read on Final Girl and The Horror Digest about Top Ten Willie Inducing Moments list! So here are the moments that give me the chills.

Let the Right One In (2008) – Eli’s “old face”

Let the Right One In is a masterpiece of a vampire film. It’s not the scariest movie in the world but it does have some very chilling moments. For me, Eli’s older face is one of them. I think the reason it freaks me out so much to the point of not even wanting to look at it, is because it’s so subtle. You only really realize after the fact, once her face changes back that it was just totally fucking different a second before.  How Oskar didn’t run screaming from the room the moment that face looked up at him is beyond me; that’s true love, fo’ sho.

Black Christmas (1975) – “I’m going to kill you.”

The original Black Christmas is a movie that scares me so deeply that I can’t even explain it. The first time I watched this movie, I couldn’t sleep right for a few nights afterward. There’s just something about it that gets under my skin and makes me feel unsafe. This moment happens about 8 minutes into the movie and it freaks me the fuck out. We have these excruciatingly long moments listening to grotesque sounds and words coming from the phone and then, without skipping a fucking beat, it switches to complete calm,  telling Barb, “I’m going to kill you.” My stomach literally dropped the first time I saw this part, it scared me so much. I’ve watched this movie with people who just thought this part was HI-LARIOUS and it just goes to show you that different thing scare different people. Just watching this part so I could get this screen grab has me anxious.

Martyrs (2008) – the monster girl

Anything that moves really unnaturally scares me a lot. So, of course there are tons of Asian horror movies that have scary moments for me; that jerky, creepy movement is just not right, it’s not natural, it’s not human. However, the French Martyrs takes the cake for me in terms of stop-moving-like-that-goddammit! This is a brutal film, from start to finish. For the first half of the film, the terrifying monster that continually stalked and fucked up Lucie had me holding my breath, my hands clasped tightly over my mouth. The bathroom scene, where we finally see the creature in full, had me totally petrified. I couldn’t handle the way she moved, the way her bones protruded, the way her mouth was like some jagged black hole whenever she screamed. If I were Lucie, I would have killed myself a long fucking time ago just to get that thing away from me.

Pet Sematary (1989) – Zelda

I debated whether or not to put this one since I don’t consider Pet Sematary one of my favorite horror movies, and as an adult I’ve only seen the whole thing once or twice. But that doesn’t change the fact that at some point during my early childhood I saw parts of this movie; the parts with Zelda. And the image of her never, ever left my mind. I still have intense fears of going into a room and seeing someone hunched in the corner because of this movie. Watching the scenes with Zelda fills me with a sick kind of fear, the kind that makes me want to turn off what I’m watching RIGHT NAOW because I can’t stand looking at it or hearing it.

The Stepford Wives (1975) – bleakest ending ever

I’ve written about my love of The Stepford Wives in the past. This movie is terrifying to me on a very fundamental level; as someone who is very conscious of women’s issues and oppression and patriarchal power , the movie is bleak and gut-wrenching. No escape. No salvation. Death at the hands of men who don’t give a shit about substance or personality; they just want you to be ‘the perfect wife’. And they can pull it off. Because who’s going to question them?

Alice:

When Ashley told me about this “willie-inducing moment” thing, I immediately wanted in. Ergo, voilà! Since neither of us could put together a full 10, here’s my 5 to complete her list, in reverse-chronological order. May the willies be with you…

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – the death of Frank Poole

Space travel is already a pretty scary prospect: no oxygen, just a few other people, relying entirely on your womblike spaceship to get you to Jupiter safely. So when the computer gets pissed off and starts doing in one crew member after another, you’re pretty much fucked. Frank is the second-to-last astronaut left, and all his conspiring with Dave proves futile: HAL unhinges his suit’s umbilical cord, and off he goes, limbs flailing frantically, into the cold darkness. I’ve always thought going into space would be like the coolest thing ever. Then I think about this scene, and… maybe not.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) – the corpse at the top of the stairs

It’s great that one of the biggest scares in this classic isn’t the living dead at all. Barbra, running from the gentleman zombie who’s just killed her brother, enters a random house in the Pennsylvania wilderness. She hurries up the stairs, but then she sees this. We never really find out who this corpse belonged to or how they died; judging from the state of decay, it was clearly before the zombie onslaught. And since we only see it for a couple seconds at a time, it really sticks in our minds. All we really know is, stay the fuck off of the second floor! (This moment, I noticed, was also chosen by Bryce at Things That Don’t Suck. It’s just really seriously willie-inducing.)

The War Game (1965) – the first blast

This isn’t really a horror movie. It’s actually more of a political mockumentary. But Peter Watkins’ Oscar-winning film has dozens of these devastating, willies-eliciting moments. With chilling detachment, the film depicts a hypothetical near-future in which NATO vs. Communist Bloc tensions escalated to the point of full-scale nuclear war. This scene shows the first nuclear bombardment of England, as unprepared civilians are blinded by a far-off explosion. My willies are amplified by the accompanying voiceover: “At this distance, the heat wave is sufficient to cause melting of the upturned eyeball…”

Carnival of Souls (1962) – the face in the car window

This guy’s face reappears a lot in Carnival of Souls, as he persistently dogs the steps of our organist heroine Mary (Candace Hilligoss). It’s never clear who he is or what he wants, except that he’s probably dead, and he probably wants Mary to be dead, too. This is the first time we see him, as Mary drives through Utah by night. First, it’s her reflection in the window. Then, it’s him. Dear Scary Faces, please stop being where you shouldn’t, whether it’s in windows, mirrors, or nightmares. Sincerely, me.

Mad Love (1935) – Dr. Gogol disguised as the reanimated Rollo

OK, we all know Peter Lorre is one creepy motherfucker. We saw him make those faces in M. We watched him obsess over that piano-playing hand in The Beast with Five Fingers. He’s even creepy in non-horror movies, like Stranger on the Third Floor. But this scene, midway through Mad Love, may be Lorre’s creepiest moment ever. He’s not just being his (already crazy) self as the obsessive Dr. Gogol. Instead, he’s putting on a demented show by dressing up as the knife-thrower Rollo, who was executed earlier in the film, in order to freak out poor pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive).

Let’s count everything that’s willie-inducing about this scene: 1) the neck brace and metal hands are totally nonfunctional – I think it’d be way less terrifying if his head actually had been reattached. 2) Still, the idea of reattaching a guillotined man’s head = ewww. 3) The sunglasses and hat almost entirely covering his face. 4) Lorre’s laughter. 5) He doesn’t even look like Rollo (played by Edward Brophy), yet Orlac falls for it. This is only one short scene, but that image – which I saw as a child in those devilish horror movie encyclopedias we had lying around the house – is so uncanny, so perverse, and so wrong in so many ways that it gives me the willies just thinking about it.

Ewww! Bad! No! In closing, I hope you enjoyed our willies.

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