Horror movies represent a particularly special blend of storytelling and emotional triggers.
Some argue that horror movies are meant to reveal our deepest fears, others suggest they serve as morality tales about what is acceptable in society and the consqeuences of going against the natural order, still others believe that they serve as a mirror of their time. Whatever the case the telling of terrifying stories is something which has long been part of our collective cultural experience, and as horror movies became a more common format in cinema, so too did they evolve over time.
In this very special episode of Cross Talk, Chris and I take some time to give a somewhat concise overview of the history of the horror genre, all the way from the 1920s through to present day – landing the plane with Get Out, It Comes at Night, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, IT, Better Watch Out, and a few others!
We make some obvious associations, like the birth of the slasher in the 1960s, and the over-saturation of the theme in the 1980s, the importance of the atomic age and how films of the 1950s all had a twinge of the absurd, which paved the way for cross-over genre films in later decades.
Of particular note is the importance of social issues and their place within the oeuvre of George A. Romero and other landmark directors, including the eponymous Alfred Hitchcock, who helped take horror from the realm of fear of the unknown and the mythological, and thrust it into the everyday.
And one of my favourite highlights – the first commercially successful and critically acclaimed Marvel movie is also a horror movie.
As it turns out, I actually have a lot to say about the genre, and while my personal collection of films is closer to 2000 then 1000 at this point, I have almost 150 titles then could be classified at horror movies. Chris is a self-admitted horror fan, but it seems that we both know enough to provide a good overview of the genre, and hopefully share some theories you haven’t heard before!
This is the history of Horror movies, this is episode thirty eight of Cross Talk.
Were you surprised by our thoughts on the genre overall? Did you learn anything interesting? Was our feedback on Alien vs Aliens too on the nose? I was personally surprised how many remakes came out in the 2000s and found it really valuable to learn how the 1940s was the period when genre sharing started to become more common.
Sharing is caring creative cuties, hopefully you’ve got some examples that we’ve never even considered, so comment below! And of course we’d love to hear from you in general, so please comment with your favourite horror picks, what you’ve pulled from each of these decades, and why you think horror reflects the current times best.
Until next time, please like and share the content! And subscribe to the mailing list if you haven’t yet. I’ll be sharing some insights on a new Brent Cobb album!
Isn’t it funny how sometimes the things you expect to flop sometimes show up on your doorstep with a balloon and a wax-coated paper ship and demand your attention. You’ll float too, they scream. You’ll float too.
Well dammit all to hell, if they weren’t right about this Stephen King adaptation.
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard, Nicholas Hamilton
Director: Andy Muschietti
released on blu-ray January 9, 2018
Andy Muschietti is an Argentine director and writer, who has now directed two feature-length films – Mama and It. With a sequel to It, titled It: Chapter Two, currently in the works for release in 2019. Muschietti first garnered attention with his short film version of Mama, enough so that Guillermo del Toro took notice and became the executive producer for the version we have today. Muschietti has also been known to collaborate with his sister Barbara Muschietti, who took on a producer role in both Maman and It.
Muschietti received the directorial role for It after the departure of Cary Fukunga from the set, and luckily for us, he never looked back.
In October ’88, stuttering teenager Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gives his seven-year-old brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), a paper sailboat, but it falls down a storm drain. As he attempts to retrieve it Georgie sees a clown (Bill Skarsgard) in the sewer, who introduces himself as “Pennywise the Dancing Clown”. The clown entices Georgie to come closer, then severs his arm and drags him into the sewer.
The following summer, Bill and friends (Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stan (Wyatt Oleff)) run afoul of bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang. Bill, still haunted by Georgie’s disappearance and neglect from his grief-stricken parents, discovers that his brother’s body may have washed up in the Barrens. He recruits his friends to check it out.
“New kid” Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) learns that the town has been plagued by unexplained tragedies and child disappearances for centuries. Targeted by Bowers’ gang for being fat, he flees into the Barrens and meets Bill’s group. They find the sneaker of a missing girl, while a member of the pursuing Bowers Gang, is killed by Pennywise while searching the sewers for Ben.
Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a girl ostracized over rumors of promiscuity, also joins the group; both Bill and Ben develop feelings for her. Later, the group befriends homeschool student Mike (Chosen Jacobs) after defending him from Bowers. All the while each member of the group has encountered terrifying phenomena in various forms; these include a menacing clown, a headless boy, a fountain of blood, a diseased and rotting man, a creepy painting come to life, Mike’s parents burning alive, and a phantom Georgie.
Now calling themselves “The Losers Club”, they realize they are all being terrorized by the same entity. After an attack by Pennywise, the group ventures to a house with a well that all the towns sewers connect to, only to be separated and terrorized. Eddie breaks his arm, while Pennywise gloats to Bill about Georgie. As they regroup, Beverly impales Pennywise through the head, forcing the clown to retreat. However, after the encounter the group argues, with only Bill and Beverly resolute in fighting It.
Weeks later, after Beverly confronts her sexually abusive father, but is abducted by Pennywise. The Losers Club reassembles to rescue her. Bowers, who has killed his father after being compelled into madness by It, attacks the group. Mike fights back and pushes Bowers down the well. The Losers descend into the sewers and find It’s underground lair, where the bodies of missing children float in mid-air. Beverly, now catatonic after being exposed to It’s true form, is restored to consciousness as Ben kisses her. Pennywise attacks the group and takes Bill hostage, offering to spare the others if they let It keep Bill. After a brutal battle they defeat Pennywise and he retreats, with Bill declaring that It will starve during its hibernation.
As summer ends, Beverly informs the group of a vision she had while catatonic, where she saw them fighting the creature as adults. The Losers swear a blood oath that they will return to Derry as adults if It returns and destroy the creature once and for all. Stanley, Eddie, Richie, Mike, and Ben make their goodbyes as the group disperses. Beverly tells Bill she is leaving the next day to live with her aunt in Portland. Before she leaves, Bill reveals his feelings and they kiss.
It is an unpretentious character and this adaptation is an unpretentious film. Somehow Muschietti has taken a very dense novel and made it infinitely more digestible, and I’m hoping that he is able to book end the story the same way he started it. Or should I say It? I found it very refreshing to watch a story I loved as a teenager come to the big screen and do it better then the miniseries we all accepted for 27 years.
Pros: The acting of all of these youngsters is excellent, and the supporting adults do their part to keep the attention where it should be, on Pennywise and the Losers Club.
Cons: While the references to 1980s horror classics are strong throughout this film, and the tone of the film embraces The Goonies, Stand By Me, and other coming of age ensemble dramas, it never quite feels super scary. The stakes only raise so high. Which could be a symptom of a story told in two parts.
Runtime: 2 hours 15 minutes
Points of Interest: This was more of a fun fact for me then your average movie goer, but this adaptation arrived almost exactly 27 years after the original was made. Much of the dialogue between the actors was improvised and Jack Dylan Grazer helped write Finn Wolfhard’s jokes. This movie currently holds the box office record for largest opening weekend for a horror film.
It could be the update from 1950s to the 1980s or the higher production value placed upon bringing Pennywise and all his iterations to life, but something about this film feels a lot more considered and genuinely authentic in it’s approach to telling the collective story of the Loser’s Club. It might have also helped that cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon helmed the camera and maintains wider view of this world then the claustrophobic one from the 1990 miniseries.
In short, this movie is a highlight of 2017 film without a doubt, even if it isn’t genuinely horrifying to watch. By trading humour for scares, the story comes to life in a satisfying way – It is a very creepy adaptation and Bill Skarsgard deserves a place on the horror shelf for his rendition as the clown. Go find a copy of It and watch when you get a chance; you’ll float too.
And on a much lighter balloon… we’ve got an excellent Watch Culture video review up for your viewing pleasure! Featuring the talents of my Cross Talk co-host Chris Murphy, it’s time to dive into the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer!
Which also recently got a retread, with a couple of Netflix exclusive shows – Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. Chris unabashedly loves this movie, and I think after you hear some of his thoughts, you’ll want to check it out for yourself.
I haven’t had a lot of experiences with ouija boards. My upbringing saw quick to that resolution. If you’re Catholic or any other kind of Christian denomination and your family is serious about their beliefs, it kinda sticks with you.
That being said, I was a teenager once, barely out of elementary school, headed straight into puberty town. And yes I did play with a ouija board, but thankfully, I didn’t get these results.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
Cast: Annalise Basso, Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas
Director: Mike Flanagan
released on blu-ray January 17, 2017
Mike Flanagan is an American film maker. Already known for making horror films, of which he directs, writes, and edits himself, Flanagan has released Absentia, Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Before I Wake all within the last five years. His next planned film project is an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, Gerald’s Game.
Flanagan originally started making dramas as a film student, but had written Oculus with horror film elements, and so he shot a portion of the film which included a back story to demonstrate his greater range. The move paid off and got him attention in the industry, though no major studios wanted to give him the reins or produce the film under his full direction, so he launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce Absentia. Absentia eventually made its way to Netflix, and after that Flanagan was able to get Intrepid Pictures on board to produce Oculus, which paved the way for his next four films.
Ouija: Origins of Evil is one of four films that Flanagan has released in 2016. A prequel to the 2014 flop Ouija, this movie gives context to the reason why the Ouija board is evil and what the motivations of Paulina Zander are.
Origins of Evil is set in the 1960s, where widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) works as a medium, supported by daughters, Paulina “Lina” (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). Alice stages her seances, but really wants to help people move on. When Lina suggests adding a Ouija board into the routine, Alice unknowingly contacts a spirit named Marcus. Marcus poses as her husband Roger and even helps the family find money in the house to prevent a foreclosure, but he eventually possesses Doris because she unknowingly breaks all three rules of the ouija board – never play alone, never play in a graveyard, and always say goodbye.
Lina notices the change in her sister and brings it to the attention of Father Tom (Henry Thomas) at school, hoping he will interpret her sudden knowledge of Polish. Father Tom visits the family and pretends that he wants contact with his dead wife Gloria. He tricks the spirit into repeating answers he was thinking, proving it is not Gloria. He reveals this to Lina and Alice, while possessed Doris is left alone. While this is happening Lina’s boyfriend shows up and Doris kills him.
Father Tom, Alice, and Lina decide to burn the ouija board and then Father Tom discovers that the house is an unofficial graveyard for a doctor that captured people and experimented on them during WWII. Father Tom is possessed by the spirits in a hidden room of the basement, is possessed, regains consciousness, and is then killed by Doris.
Alice is captured and Lina knocked out, but Lina has a vision where she learns from her father that Doris’ mouth needs to be stitched to shut out the voices. Lina wakes, pins Doris and accomplishes the deed, killing her in the process. After this, Lina is temporarily possessed and stabs Alice. Alice dies, but sees Roger and Doris together and heads towards them. Fast forward two months, Lina has been committed and is suspected of murder. The doctor cannot get much out of her, and leaves. We learn he is still watching Lina and witnesses her attempt to summon her sister. Behind the doctor, Doris crawls across the ceiling.
Pros: Skillfully presenting the period in which it is set, this film is visually appealing, and the premise is interesting. Definitely more successful of what it presents then its predecessor.
Cons: It manages to be both derivative and wildly disruptive in it’s pacing, building slowly at first and then running at a breakneck pace to tie up lose ends and force a plot. It is difficult to watch at times, but mostly because there is nothing there.
Runtime: 1hour 39 minutes
Points of Interest: The Universal Pictures 1963-90 title design was used to add to the retro feel. The real Hasbro Ouija board does not contain the 3 instructions portrayed in the movie. Doris isn’t possessed in the traditional sense… the spirits break her back when entering it, killing her. For the rest of the film it is just her possessed corpse housing the spirits.
Ouija: Origin of Evil might not be a perfect take on the horror genre, as it duplicates a lot of what has preceded it, however it does feature some interesting moments of exploration, not enough to spare us from the timewasting qualities found in cookie-cutter horror. That said, it is definitely better than the original and visually appealing. You might find yourself taking up that planchette and hovering around.
I’m glad no one in my family got possessed after that encounter with a ouija board as a teenager, though admittedly my cousins and I did scare the shit out of my baby brother, and now he scares everyone whenever he can. So maybe there is a lesson to be learned from this movie. Don’t mess with stuff you don’t understand. At least that’s my theory.
Fede Alvarez only has two directorial credits to his name to date, but he is already establishing himself as someone to be reckoned with. After releasing a short film to YouTube in 2009, he caught the attention of Ghost House Pictures, who decided to give him the directorial responsibilities for the Evil Dead remake – no small task to be sure. Fast forward a few years later and the movie did well but it’s not regarded as highly as the original but I personally think it’s a strong movie in it’s own right.
Then Alvarez was given the opportunity to make Don’t Breathe, what he calls an exercise in reversal. A challenge against the complaints of Evil Dead. An original story with limited blood that focuses on shocking the audience with real world horror. It also subverts some tropes about scary houses and home invasions being a horror for the owner.
The movie introduces us to Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto). They live in Detroit and make money by breaking into homes through Alex’s father’s security company. Rocky has an abusive home life and wants to leave for California with her little sister as soon as possible.
Money receives a tip from their buyer that a blind Army vet (Stephen Lang) has $300,000 in cash in his house, given as a settlement after a young woman killed his daughter in a car collision.
After drugging the Blind Man’s dog, the teens are only able to break into the house through a small window because the security system is reinforced with additional locks. Unable to find the money, Money shoots a locked door and wakes the Blind Man who overpowers and kills him. Rocky hides in a closet, but sees the Blind Man open the safe. After he leaves, Alex and Rocky take the money and attempt to leave, but not before the Blind Man learns that there were more intruders than just Money..
Heading into the basement, the pair are surprised by a restrained, gagged woman in a padded cell. She is Cindy, the woman that killed the Blind Man’s daughter. They free her and attempt to leave, stopped by the Blind Man, who mistakenly shoots and kills Cindy. Rocky and Alex flee while the Blind Man shuts off the lights.
Rocky gets into the vents, while Alex is attacked by the newly awake guard dog, and then is seemingly killed by the Blind Man. Meanwhile, the dog pursues Rocky through the vents, and she is eventually captured by the Blind Man. She wakes up restrained, where the Blind Man reveals he artificially inseminated Cindy to replace the child she killed. He then attempts to artificially inseminate Rocky but Alex knocks him out and handcuffs him.
Rocky and Alex attempt to leave one last time, but the Blind Man breaks free and shoots Alex. Rocky is able to escape, pursued by the dog, though she does trap it. The Blind Man uses this as an opportunity to recapture her, but at the last moment she disorients him with the house alarm system, and knocks him into the basement where he shoots himself by accident. Finally able to leave Detroit, Rocky and her sister see a news report that the Blind Man survived a B&E, but no mention of the stolen money.
Pros: Alvarez employs the familiar techniques of suspense quite well, and even manages an excellent plot twist that will surprise even the most liberal of sensibilities. The plot is tight and pacing is well kept.
Cons: The three protagonists are undercooked meat. Which makes it difficult to accept the antics that get them locked in the house in the first placee AND all of the little noises they make which set off the alarms for the Blind Man.
Runtime: 1 hour 28 minutes
Points of Interest: Each of the actors wore restrictive contact lenses – Stephen Lang’s were designed for low light, while the other actors wore lenses that dilated their pupils but also greatly restricted their vision. The film was originally titled A Man In The Dark.
This is one of those rare instances where doing the opposite of what works paid off in spades. Lang is a menacing villain and while it might not be obvious why he should be one from the outset, by the time you’ve finished, his purpose is clear. The twist is vital to the films success, but I can almost guarantee no one will see it coming. Get it? See it coming?
Don’t Breathe is one of those movies that I could likely make into an annual venture along with the rest of my horror film collection, but I don’t think it is infinitely re-watchable. This is to the credit of Fede Alvarez, as he has brought something shocking to the table which demands respect and proper attention. Don’t Breathe is a non-supernatural horror-thriller with a place on your shelf, just make sure to dust regularly, otherwise I recommend not breathing near your collection.
I may be slighlty biased because I was born in midst the 1980s, but I see it as a time of significance for the arts – The height of excess and post-modernist exploration, combining disparate ideas together seamlessly and sometimes garrishly. If you need a good example, this is often best interpreted in the tradition of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, at least for me.
Probably because I enjoyed it quite heavily as a little boy.
Now, what this has to do with today’s movie review is less obvious, but I’ll give you a hint – the unofficial theme song for this movie was popular in the 1960s, and again in the 1980s, it was featured in the film trailer, at the turn of the plot, and is also one of my heart songs. Conspiracy? I think not.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
released on blu-ray June 14, 2016
Dan Trachtenberg is an American filmmaker who has also co-hosted a podcast called The Totally Rad Show and another podcast called Geekdrome in previous efforts, both of which were on the Revision3 network. When it comes to directing, Trachtenberg has been involved in a couple of large scale directing roles now, one being Black Mirror, which was made for televsion, and very recently the film 10 Cloverfield Lane.
But don’t let the rap sheet fool you. He has spent a fair amount of time behind the camera already, directing commercials for Lexus, Nike, and Coca Cola, AND he has directed a short film as well as an internet show.
As something of self-proclaimed pop culture expert, Trachtenberg is just one of many examples of young directors being given the helm for big movie projects, and I had to wonder if this trend is incredibly smart or incredibly reckless. Only time will tell, but in the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane the gamble seems to have paid off.
Without going to too great of detail, the story follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she is in the midst of leaving her fiance Ben (Bradley Cooper). In the rush to leave their home she leaves quite a few things behind. At one point while travelling, Ben attempts to contact Michelle, to which she reluctantly answers the phone, but does not speak.
Just as Ben is in the midst of calling a second time, Michelle is hit by a truck and taken off of the road. She wakes up in an underground bunker, chained to the wall and plugged into an IV, with several wounds and a sprained leg. Unfortunately there is no reception and she while she does struggle to escape, she is unsuccessful.
Eventually someone opens the door and we are introduced to Howard (John Goodman), who built the bunker and claims to have saved Michelle from an apocalyptic event. Despite her pleas to be let go, and at least 2 attempts to escape, Michelle eventually realizes that something has happened above Howards farm. Emmett has also stolen sanctuary in Howards bunker and as the story unravels we slowly learn that this is not a typical thriller or horror movie, and it dances the antagonist between roles of villain and anti-hero rather liberally.
If I were to explain too much more, it would absolutely ruin the movie, so I will say this. If Trachtenberg can make a song from the 1980s both humourous and intensely creepy, then franchise films have a bright future.
Pros: John Goodman owns this role and makes the movie fascinating and terrifying simultaneously. If not for his characterization of a conspiracy theorist proven right, it wouldn’t have the same level of atmosphere.
Cons: The ending is definitely tacked on, and of course, serviceable to it’s predecssor. Which is kind of disappointing, because we all had something different in mind as we got to the final act.
Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes.
Points of Interest: Mary Elizabeth Winstead was the first and only choice for Michelle. John Goodman is seen watching Pretty In Pink at one point in the film, and Molly Ringwald’s character also had seamstress aspirations. The cast members weren’t told the title of the movie during production, to help keep the secret.
I know I listed it as a con, but I feel very strongly that I should clarify that the while the ending is somewhat disappointing, upon a subsequent viewing, I think the studio decision to do what they did actually helps with the ambiguity of John Goodman’s Howard. And also I was pretty much on the edge of my seat the whole time, so that should say something at the very least.
Okay, I think we’re alone now – So I’ll fill you in as to why I really enjoyed this movie. It features all of the intimacy and practical effect gloss of a 1980s horror movie, but with the proper sensitivities of a contemporary self-aware thriller. If want to be surprised this year, watch 10 Cloverfield Lane. Otherwise, I’m out of theories for now.