#31HorrorFilms31Days Roundup (2)

Scary-movie1This is my second annual roundup for the 31 Horror Films in 31 Days challenge. I had such a great time doing it last year, that I just had to do it again. The rules are pretty simple — beginning October 1st watch 31 previously unseen horror movies by midnight of Halloween, tweeting each one with a descriptive blurb and the hashtag #31HorrorFilms31Days.


The real “challenge” comes into play cobbling together a list of 31 horror movies I’ve never seen before and stand a decent chance of being good. I cheated only a little with The Birds; I had seen it before but this was the first time on a big screen, so I decided to include it. If you think you know Hitchcock but have never seen any of his films on a theater size movie screen then I’m telling you you’re missing out. You have no idea. It’s like seeing the movie for the first time (and definitely how Hitchcock envisioned the size of the canvas he was working with). This makes all the difference.


There seemed to be a lot more duds this year peddling plain sloppy examples of lazy and unimaginative movie making and storytelling. But coming out of that mixed bag of uninspired mediocrity were some of the scariest (and funniest) horror movies I’ve seen in a long, long, time, so I’m still calling this year a huge win.



Topping my list this year for outright scariest, achieving a surprising amount within its very modest indie budget is the Australian flick Lake Mungo (2008). Its simple but incredibly convincing faux documentary style relies on no special effects, no jump scares or loud music, and it still SCARED THE LIVING BEJEBUS out of me. It accomplishes so much with so little — this is as stripped down and bare bones as movie making gets, but it all felt so authentic and engaging, pulling you right into the heart of this family and the tragedy they’re experiencing. So not only is it a believable portrait of grief, it really digs at the psychological costs of grieving and how we might process an actual haunting. This is a movie that impressed me with its ambitious ending too. It’s a twisty narrative that when it finally departs from its straight-forward premise where you think you know exactly what’s going on, the movie is going to jangle your nerves, terrify you, break your brain (and then your heart). Watch it!


file_744248_wyrmwood-posterAnother winner from Down Under is the post-apocalyptic zombie flick Wyrmwood (2014). I’ve been burning out on zombies of late (and I place the blame firmly at the feet of The Walking Dead for my zombie fatigue — so glad I stopped watching). But this loud, action-packed, gory and edgy zombie fest from Australia is smart and innovative with some Mad Max thematic overtones to act as the cherry on top. The zombie genre is SO well-trod it’s really a challenge to pull off anything new, but Wyrmwood succeeds splendidly. Trust me, put this one on your watch list. And tell your friends! I want a sequel.


Another HUGE SURPRISE was the Lovecraftian romantic horror mash-up (yes, you read that right) — Spring (2014). This one was so unexpectedly spring-2014great, I almost gave it five stars. Not only is it a convincing love story set in a beautiful Italian landscape, it is a terrifying contemplation on body horror and metamorphosis. It’s subtle yet consuming, with great dialogue and fantastic chemistry between the two leads. And don’t just take my word for it: horror maestro and creative genius Guillermo del Toro tweeted that it’s “one of the best horror films of this decade.”


The FUNNIEST horror comedy that I watched this year had to be What We Do In The Shadows (though I finally got around to seeing Dale and Tucker vs Evil and that almost tied with it). Both of them I will watch again because they’re that good. What We Do In The Shadows is a mockumentary out of New Zealand from the creator of what_we_do_in_the_shadows_ver6Flight of the Conchords. If you weren’t a fan of that show, don’t let that stop you from checking out this HILARIOUS look at the life of a den of modern vampires sharing a house together trying to navigate their challenging condition and their annoyances with one another. It’s fresh, cheeky and a whole bucketful of bloody fun.


And lastly, while not strictly a horror movie per se, I finally got around to seeing Green Room with Patrick Stewart and the gone much too soon Anthon Yelchin. This is a gripping, edge of your seat, white-knuckle thriller that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final credits roll. It is INTENSE, extremely well-acted, and not easily forgotten. The violence is graphic, but not gratuitous, and the suspense and tension unrelenting. If you haven’t seen it yet, add Green Room to your queue. You won’t regret it.



Lastly, please share what scared YOU this October. I’m already working on my list for next year!


31. WYRMWOOD (Australia 2014) Mad Max w/ ? Yes please! Action-packed, gruesome & funny 4/5

30. FEBRUARY (2015) Sally Draper’s left behind at empty boarding school over holiday. Quiet & supremely unnerving 3.5/5

29. SPRING (2015) A mash up of body horror & love story profoundly, authentically beautiful in its themes & charm 4.5/5

28. CLOWN (Canada/US 2014) Like if Jeff Goldblum had morphed into a demon clown instead of a fly 3.5/5

27. CELL (2016) Cell phones turn people into fast moving zombies, sorta??? Confused & messy & kinda dull 2/5

26. CUB (Belgium 2014) Boy Scouts + feral wood kid. No. Just no. Graphic violence + animal cruelty 0/5

25. TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL The dumbest, clumsiest college kids mistake two hapless hillbillies as psycho killers. 4/5

24. DEMENTIA 13 (1963) Francis Ford Coppola’s mainstream directorial debut & weak attempt at ripping off Hitchcock 2/5

23. GOODNIGHT MOMMY (Austria 2014) Opens w. twin boys playing in a cornfield. You know this isn’t ending well.

22. THE HALLOW (Ireland 2015) The deep Irish woods are alive with… you don’t want to know. It isn’t leprechauns 2.5/5

21. THE DEAD ROOM (New Zealand 2015) Minimalist approach to maximizing suspense. Impressive sound fx 3.5/5

20. STAKE LAND (2010) Mad Max meets The Road via vicious vampires. Gripping apocalypse melodrama with great acting 4/5

19. HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995) Paul Rudd’s film debut and the final film of Donald Pleasence

18. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (New Zealand 2014) Loved it! The funniest goddamn vampire movie you will ever see 4.5/5

17. THE ONES BELOW (2015) Epic suspense fail when your audience can predict every plot twist 2.5/5

16. FOUND (2012) What sucks more than being 12 and getting bullied? Discovering your brother is a serial killer 3/5

15. LAKE MUNGO (Australia 2008) Utterly unnerving indie gem in faux-doc style. Don’t miss this one! 4.5/5

14. PURGE 3: ELECTION YEAR (2016) Very shoot ’em up this time and LOUD. The tonight was much scarier 2.5/5

13. BONE TOMAHAWK (2015) A horror western with cannibals starring Kurt Russell and Patrick Wilson? Yes please 4.5/5

12. BAD MILO! (2013) This is why men don’t give birth. Utter schlocky nonsense totally worth it for Peter Stormare 3/5

11. ZOMBEAVERS (2014) Because sometimes you just have to opt for the truly ridiculous. Raunchy, gory fun 3.5/5

10. THE BOY (2016) Lauren Cohen gets nanny gig in English mansion. The Innocents meets Pinocchio meets Chucky?? Meh 2/5

9. BLEED (2016) Never go ghost hunting in an abandoned prison when you’re pregnant. Recycled schlock 1/5

8. MANIAC COP (1988) What’s not to love here? 1980s NYC, Tom Atkins, ‘s chin & eyebrows, & Raimi cameo

7. HOLIDAYS (2016) Very meh horror anthology that tries too hard to be clever. That bathtub scene though 2/5

6. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR What part of don’t open the goddamn door do you not understand?! Nothing new here 2.5/5

5. GREEN ROOM (2016) Punk rockers get a gig in a den of neo-Nazis and see something they shouldn’t. Intense!  4/5

4. SINISTER 2 (2015) Predictable jump scares pale in comparison to outstanding frightening unforgettable original 2.5/5

3. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2013) British sound engineer gets movie job in 70s Italy. Lynch-like weirdness ensues 3/5

2. THE BIRDS Small coastal town besieged by shrieking, screeching homicidal birds. Calculated silences=pure dread 5/5

1. CRIMSON PEAK Lush, gothic romance filled with terrible beauty and dread by the master 3.5/5


#31HorrorFilms31Days Roundup

Scary-movie1This was the year I decided to take the 31 Horror Films in 31 Days challenge. The rules are pretty simple — beginning October 1st watch 31 previously unseen horror movies by midnight of Halloween, tweeting each one with a descriptive blurb and the hashtag #31HorrorFilms31Days. This was a no brainer. In my world, watching 31 horror movies would be a breeze and a pleasure.

The real “challenge” I faced was cobbling together a list of 31 horror movies I’d never seen before (because I’ve seen a lot). Not only that, I wanted them to be movies I thought had a decent chance of being good. It’d be easy come up with a list of B-grade pieces of schlocky garbage. I wanted my challenge to be a labor of love, a genuine attempt at uncovering some diamonds in the rough and a perfect opportunity to catch some classics I’ve managed to miss along the way.

The verdict — I’m deliriously pleased to announce — is that horror is not dead. Despite too many baaad remakes and too many rip-offs and too many shaky cameras, the genre is alive and well. Not just good movies, but great movies are being made. Even M. Night seems to be back in the game after I’d sworn off his movies for good after The Happening, in which nothing actually happens other than people get the_nightmarescared by “gently rustling leaves.” Two hours of my life I won’t ever get back, fuck you very much. The Visit isn’t half bad though, with some creepy scenes and a “twist” that has a “the call is coming from inside the house!” kind of vibe. The kids are a bit overly precocious and annoying, but the old woman is TERRIFYING.

Listed below is my complete round-up of all 33 movies I ended up watching by Halloween. They were all previously unseen. I’ve assigned a rating out of 5. No movie scored 5/5 but two came very close — not surprisingly Jacob’s Ladder and the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Not necessarily the best, but the two that scared me the most (as in sleep with the light on nearly make me pee my pants level of scare) included most unexpectedly a new documentary called The Nightmare about sleep paralysis. The human brain is an asshole and some unlucky people fall under its torment nightly. Don’t miss this. I will say the same bansheefor  The Banshee Chapter. Ever heard of Shortwave Numbers Stations? Yeah, me neither. This movie makes use of them in a way that completely unnerved me. Sit alone in a dark room and listen to the swedish rhapsody. I dare you.

Also high on my list from Canada is Backcountry — a gripping man versus nature tale about an intrepid couple who go into the woods — and meet a bear. It’s beautifully shot and terrifying to watch unfold. Not as good as Open Water, but very compelling nevertheless in its convincing actors and in the confident execution of its simple plot.

Lastly, please share what scared YOU this October. I’m already working on my list for next year!

33) HALLOWEEN TALES | Anthology of ten ghoulish tales reminiscent of Creepshow & Tales From the Crypt 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days #Horror

32) THE VISIT | Old people be scary. Precocious kids can’t see dead people but get traumatized for life anyway 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

31) INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS 1978 “They’re already here!” 4.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days #MissionAccomplished

30) DEAD WITHIN Couple hiding from zombie-esque plague become unhinged in their isolation. Slow burn but good 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

29) HOUSEBOUND | Bratty adult with legal troubles is trapped at home with mum under house arrest. Funny & scary 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

28) HELLRAISER (1987) | Ugly characters. Ugly movie. Pinhead is a dick. How has this spawned so many sequels? Hated 0/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

27) BIG ASS SPIDER! As much scary fun you can have w/ a giant arachnid & it still be legal 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

26) STARRY EYES Bleak Faustian tale mixing Cronenberg body horror w/ Lynch weirdness. Compelling but difficult to watch #31HorrorFilms31Days

25) THE LAZARUS EFFECT | Didn’t little Gage teach you people nothing?! Sci-fi Pet Sematary 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

24) THE GALLOWS Is this House of Leaves high school? How big is it anyway? Silly shaky mess copycatting much better 2/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

23) DIABOLIQUE Stripped to its bare essentials this classic is effective but sorely missing Hitchcock’s stylings 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

22) BACKCOUNTRY (Canada 2014) | Open Water in the woods with a bear. Lush & nerve-wracking 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

21) HIDDEN (2015) Intense, claustrophobic survival story about a family hiding underground 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

20) WE ARE WHAT WE ARE | If Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a subtle, lyrical well-acted movie. This one surprised me 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

19) THE HAUNTER (Canada 2013) Teen caught in time loop in haunted house. Must unravel sinister mystery. Nice twist 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

18) THE AWAKENING (2011) | Jimmy McNulty is a British boarding school teacher. There is a boy ghost. And a twist. 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

17) THE GIFT (2015) | More psychological thriller but still intense and creepy. Bullies suck. Karma is a bitch. 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

16) WE ARE STILL HERE Never bring hippies into a haunted house with ancient curse. Good! 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

15) THE HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME (Spain 2013) | Well plotted ghost story genuinely frightening and emotional Rating 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

14) DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD | Russian zombies kick Nazi zombie ass. Gory slapstick fun! 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

13) INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 | Pissed off demon in a breathing mask torments teen girl. Intensely scary for a sequel. 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

12) DEAD SNOW Cabin in the Norwegian mountains movie w/ NAZI zombies. Spectacular cinematography, splatter and fun. 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

11) CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO | “No, I’m not on my period. Why do you ask?” Flesh eating disease is an asshole. Rating: 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

10) THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL | Adventures in babysitting. Nostalgic 70s stylings & slow build make this a real gem 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

9) THE PYRAMID Can a movie be so bad it’s good? Yes. Just not this one. What a laughable mess in every way. Rating 1/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

8) THE BANSHEE CHAPTER Effing scary!! Sound effects are unnerving. Lovecraft + hallucinogens = bad news Rating: 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

7) GRABBERS Creature feature with drunk Irish and tentacles. Hilarity abounds. Nearly peed myself laughing. Rating 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

6) JUG FACE Hicklit meets The Lottery. Young girl cheats Pit. The Pit wants what it wants. Backwoods chaos ensues 2.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

5) THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT Found footage. 5 friends. Haunted houses. Hells no! Scare tactics on crack 4/5 #PeedALittle #31HorrorFilms31Days

4) JACOB’S LADDER | Vietnam vet has hellish visions. Doesn’t know what’s real anymore. Terrifying and beautiful 4.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

3) RE-ANIMATOR Sometimes dead is better. Ayuh. Above all else, keep your head. Cheesy gory fun. My rating: 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

2) THE NIGHTMARE 2015 | Dramatized documentary about sleep paralysis. Scary! My rating: 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

1) HERE COMES THE DEVIL – (Mexico 2012) Creepy kids get lost in a cave overnight. Come home acting even creepier 2/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

My Favorite Movie Endings of All Time

the_end_small_2Just recently a friend and I had an animated discussion about our favorite movie endings. It turned out to be so much fun that I thought I’d compile my picks into a blog post.

Neither one of us is a rabid cinephile or film critic; we just love movies. So our respective lists turned out to be hodge-podges of personal favorites and guilty pleasures (as opposed to a more sober, hypercritical assemblage of undisputed “classics”). Sorry no Casablanca, Chinatown or Citizen Kane here. That’s not to say that I don’t take the movies on my list seriously; I take them very seriously. I love them all. Especially their endings.



The horror! The horror!

The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead ★★
Adam Rockoff
Scribner, May 2015

This is an advanced review. Reader copy provided by NetGalley.

horrorofitallI always feel guilty when I snag a book from NetGalley and don’t love it. But hey — impartial reviewing and honest reader response is what we all crave, right? So I get over that guilt pretty quickly.

Adam Rockoff has a great idea here. While my real passion is to watch horror movies (not read about them) every once in a while a book like this sneaks past my defenses with a come hither look I can’t resist. That’s what this book did with its great cover and catchy (if wordy) title.

Essentially what Rockoff is attempting to do here (and largely fails) is what Stephen King accomplished decades ago with flair and brilliance in his nonfiction study of the horror genre Danse Macabre. What did I want this Christmas season? What do I keenly long for every year that passes? A goddamn, updated sequel! Get on that Uncle Stevie, before it’s too late!


Danse Macabre ©1981

King’s masterpiece covers horror in all its manifestations in print, and on the big and small screens. Rockoff narrows his focus to just the movies, and that would be enough if it had been a wide view of horror on the big screen, but Rockoff’s kink is the slasher / exploitation films (the subtitle for this book should have been my first clue).

Rockoff has already written a book about the rise of the slasher film called Going to Pieces — heh, cute title — and without having read it, I’m left with a sneaking suspicion that this follow-up book treads a lot of the same ground. In The Horror of it All Rockoff has a major rant against Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for a special edition episode of their show Sneak Previews aired in 1980 in which the film critics lambast these “slasher” flicks as a dangerous and despicable trend in film both demeaning and dangerous to women (these men are so high up on their high horse here I can’t imagine they can still see the ground). Don’t get me wrong — I love Roger Ebert, he remains one of my favorite film critics — but boy, was he mostly a fuss bucket when it came to horror movies in general. It wasn’t his genre of choice and it showed in many of his prejudicial (and often undeserved) negative reviews of some great movies.

Rockoff is justified in tearing a strip off these two men in an instance where they show complete ignorance about a genre and its fans. Neither Siskel or Ebert appear to have actually sat through any of these movies they are so quick to dismiss as sleazy and misogynist. They show no awareness of “the Final Girl” who often survives to slay the “monster” herself, as well as suffering from the common misconception that it’s only women killed in slasher films. Quite the contrary; studies show men are just as likely to die violent deaths on screen in horror movies as their female counterparts.

But I get it. As a fan of the genre since before I could tie my own shoes, I’ve come up against that kind of prejudice many, many times. Horror is a genre where the consumer is attacked as often as the content itself. Understanding the appeal factor of horror is difficult for some people to accept, people who will look at you with a wary expression as they ask “how can you read/watch that stuff”? As if we should be ashamed, as if we are somehow mentally warped or our moral compass dangerously askew. Don’t worry, it isn’t. Horror appeals to many of us for very solid, rational, non-psychopathic reasons, I swear. And it appeals just as equally to men as it does women. And that doesn’t make the men misogynists, or the women failed feminists.

But I digress. Back to Rockoff. His goal here is to really champion for the slasher films and the deranged and disturbing pushing all the boundaries it can possibly think of exploitation films. And I wouldn’t have had a problem with that. But it gets a bit repetitive and tiresome and a lot of the movies he winds up talking about are pretty obscure if you’re not a complete and utter fanatic for everything underground and out of print (I’m not).

Adam Rockoff

Adam Rockoff

In his introduction, Rockoff promises to approach horror in a very personal essay, knitting together his experiences of the genre using memoir as a lens. I love that idea. I love hearing about people’s personal reactions to movies or what was going on in their lives when. One of my favorites of these sorts of anecdotes came from my own mother. She was dating my father at the time of the theatrical release of The Exorcist.

It was a date movie for them (these are my genes). They had to park the car at the very back of the mall parking lot. When the movie let out after 11pm the mall was closed and the parking lot was almost empty. They walked to the dark, abandoned hinterland of the lot to their car. When my mother went to open the passenger door (this was 1970’s Newfoundland – people rarely locked their car doors) a giant looming shadow of a man sat up in the back seat and groaned. My mother screamed. My father cursed (and probably shit himself). Turns out that while they were watching the movie, this guy stumbled out of the bar drunk and crawled into my parents car to pass out mistaking the car as belonging to his friend.

Rockoff has a few personal stories like this, humorous and charming, but not nearly enough of them. He can’t help but slip into the film school analysis voice, reviewing and critiquing. Too much of the book’s contents feel like grad school essays, a little pompous and righteous. In an effort to “legitimize” horror and testify to its importance and validity, Rockoff comes off sounding like a bit of a haughty dick.

Then there’s some sections that just don’t work at all, and their inclusion confounds me. Case in point — in Chapter 5 “Sounds of the Devil” Rockoff talks about the (un)natural marriage of heavy metal music to horror movies. The two go together like PB&J in some ways, in other ways it’s a misfit experiment gone awry.

Tipper Gore 1985

Tipper Gore, 1985

He raises a few interesting points and then inexplicably goes right off the reservation with a blow-by-blow account of the time in 1985 Tipper Gore helped found the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and brought the fight to Washington in the hopes of compelling the music industry to adopt a voluntary rating system warning of the explicit lyrics destined to corrupt and warp innocent children.

Halfway through this chapter I felt like I was reading a completely different book that didn’t have anything to do with horror movies at all. It just seemed really out of context and ultimately onerous. I remember when this bullshit was going on at the time — even at 11 years old I scoffed then, I scoff now. Plus, it’s not nearly as interesting a story as the Comics Code Authority and the war against horror comics of the 1950’s (check out The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America and Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America). And I’m really looking forward to seeing this 2014 documentary Diagram for Delinquents.

If you’ve made it to the end of this lengthy, rambling review I thank you. You are a good sport and too kind. I didn’t hate this book but it failed to really engage me or entertain. I don’t recommend it; instead, pop some popcorn, turn out the lights and cue up your favorite scary movie.

Horror movies 101: rules of survival

How to Survive a Horror Movie ★★★★
Seth Grahame-Smith
Quirk Books, 2007

how to surviveHorror movies and I? We go way back. I’ve been a voracious consumer since I was eight and my enthusiasm for the genre hasn’t diminished with … ahem … maturity and wisdom. So yeah, it’s been a lifelong love affair, one I don’t hide, or feel I need to apologize for. Because even amidst the dreck, there exists some awesome cinematic gems, and amidst the classics there are film moments of hair-raising, heart-stopping, enviable genius.

The naysayers who decry: “how can you watch that garbage” are rude asshats, unimaginative douchebags or big fat chickens. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh. Rationally I know horror movies aren’t for everyone, but there’s that rabid part of my brain that thinks if you’re not with us, you’re against us.

In writing this little manifesto on how to survive a horror movie, Seth Grahame-Smith (the guy who gave us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) proves that he understands horror and humor are a marriage made in heaven – the two go together like Butch and Sundance, Sam and Dean and that other celestial match – Sam and Bruce. Horror indulges in all forms of comedy – satire, slapstick, black, blue, Freudian, farce, irony – you name it, it’s been done; in some cases to humbling effect, either deliberately with great focus, or by happy, moronic accident.

Bruce Campbell (Ash) battles with his possessed hand.

Bruce Campbell (Ash) battles with his possessed hand.

Don’t believe me? Look no further than these cinema classics: An American Werewolf in London, Evil Dead I and II, The Return of the Living Dead, Creepshow, and Shaun of the Dead.

Frank (James Karen) realizing the movie lied.

Frank (James Karen) realizing the movie lied.

All of the above are prime examples of why I’d rather be watching horror movies rather than reading about them. But every now and then a book of this sort breaks through my defenses, giving me that “come hither” look I just can’t resist. This book has giggles, a few gut busters, and a whole lot of in-jokes delivered with tongue firmly planted in cheek. There are some sections that fall flat being over-written and a little dumb, but there are also shining moments of pure cleverness. Any die-hard horror fan who reads this little book is going to think “I could have written this and probably done a better job”; maybe, but you didn’t, and neither did I so we’re going to shut our pie holes and give props where they’re due.

More than anything, this little book is pure goddamn fun. Plain and simple. However, it is not a classic – for that you have to read If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor and Danse Macabre. These definitive texts will teach you everything you need to know about the industry, the genre, the people who make their living by it, and the people who love it. Seth Grahame-Smith wants to make us laugh, but it also comes across how much he loves celluloid horror and because of that I know he is one of us and therefore to be trusted.

There are just too many delightful nuggets to quote from here and rather than trying to capture them all I’m just going to say go read the book. But I can’t resist throwing out a few of my favorites:

The Seven Deadly Horror Movie Sins:

      3rd Deadly Sin: Independence – “Screw you guys I’m going home”. Actually you’re going about a third of the way home.

     5th Deadly Sin: Curiosity – “Do you think it’s dead?” No. Go ahead and poke it with a stick.

How to Defeat a Killer Doll: Kick the Crap Out of It. Why are you running away from something that could be imprisoned with Legos?

How to Kill a Vampire: Interview It.

What to Do If Your Corn Has Children In It (I still can’t say this out loud without giggling my ass off)

The Amityville Horror (1979) – Bad things happen in house. Family buys house. Bad things happen to family.

Carrie (1976) – If you haven’t seen this masterpiece yet, pelt yourself with tampons and go to your prayer closet.

The Hitcher (1986) – How many times do I have to tell you: Never pick up Rutger Hauer!

Seven (1995) – I went to see this film by myself on a cold, rainy Boston day. I haven’t smiled since.

The Sixth Sense (1999) – Hi, my name’s M. Night Shyamalan. Trust me…you’ll learn how to pronounce it.

Carrie versus The Shining (movie edition)


The Shining (1980)

***Note: the following discussion contains spoilers for the movies Carrie (1976) and The Shining (1980).

I recently reviewed Stephen King’s classic horror novel The Shining and in that discussion I take a closer look at Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic version versus King’s book. I love the movie – always have – but I can also plainly see its flaws and where it becomes an entirely different story than the one King wrote. In many ways, The Shining is a brilliant film, but in many ways it fails as an adaptation.


Carrie (1976)

Today I want to look a little more closely at another famous King adaptation – Brian De Palma’s Carrie. But rather than compare it to King’s book, I want to see how it stacks up against Kubrick’s acclaimed cinema masterpiece. For a lot of film fanatics, critics and horror fans, Kubrick’s The Shining is the superior movie, a stylistic work of genius that fairly vibrates with terror and suffocates the viewer with its unsettling and provocative atmosphere. I’m here to convince you however, that based on three criteria, Carrie is actually the better film and by far my personal favorite.

1. Acting
Scene for scene Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie deliver brilliant performances that far surpass what the indomitable Jack Nicholson offers and his weird and wacky counterpart Shelley Duvall. Jack is Jack. Jack is always Jack. His performance in The Shining is not all that different from what audiences watched him do just a few years previous in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Enjoyable yes. Memorable certainly. Worth parodying always. Yet, paling in comparison.

Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek | Carrie (1976)

Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek | Carrie (1976)

Spacek and Laurie are practically Method in their approach to their roles — becoming Carrie and her religiously zealous mother. Nicholson on the other hand almost can’t stop himself from hamming it up and goofing around. His performance is so over the top in parts to merit laughter rather than awe or fear. Simply put, Spacek and Laurie become other people — Jack doesn’t ever stop being Jack (Nicholson that is) and in my mind, fails to ever become Jack Torrence.

2. Memorable Scenes
Both films have memorable scenes, or we wouldn’t still be watching them and talking about them this many years later. There’s no doubt that Kubrick was a cinematic genius and that he composed his shots like an artist. Every prop, every angle — everything meant something. Kubrick directs The Shining with an acute hyper-awareness where “the look” of the film is as important, if not more important, than what’s going on in the story and between the characters. It makes for a visually stunning experience, but it’s also a very technical and cold approach to the art of storytelling.

De Palma’s Carrie is the exact opposite. He is telling the story of a young girl who is tormented by bullies, relentlessly abused by her domineering, mentally unstable mother, and terrified of her psychic powers. It is an emotional story, told with great sensitivity. De Palma wants to shock us, and scare the crap out of us, but he also wants us to feel empathy and sorrow at the tragedy of Carrie White’s short life. There is no empathy or sorrow in The Shining — there is no sense of tragedy. While King’s novel is rife with it, Kubrick has other cinematic goals to achieve with his movie that excludes the emotional in favor of the visceral and cerebral.

Memorable scenes The Shining:
1. Danny cycling the Overlook’s maze-like hallways until he encounters the Grady twins.
2. Jack entering Room 237 – the old woman in the bathtub.
3. Wendy finds out that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
4. Heeeere’s Johnny! – axing through the bathroom door

Memorable scenes Carrie:
1. The opening shower scene – Plug it up! Plug it up! Plug it up!
2. Eve was weak!
3. The dropping of the bucket of pig’s blood
4. Carrie crucifies her mother with kitchen utensils.

All of these scenes are memorable, but for me the more memorable and satisfying are the scenes from Carrie because they are so emotionally loaded, not just scenes relying exclusively on primal shock and terror. I wasn’t just scared out of my mind by the end of Carrie, I was overwhelmed with sadness too.

shining frozen

Jack’s frozen corpse after a night  in the hedge maze.

carrie grave

Carrie’s bloody hand reaching up out of the grave.

3. Shock ending
Speaking of shock and terror, as shock endings go Carrie has The Shining beat here as well. Jack running around in the dark in the maze during a blizzard and then the quick shot of him the next morning frozen to death simply can’t compare to Sue Snell’s dreamy walk to Carrie’s graveside and as she places the flowers the bloody hand shooting up out of the ground to grab her by the arm. That’s an ending to make you scream.

According to Stephen King: “When that hand comes out of the grave… Man, I thought I was going to shit in my pants.” Even in his ending, Kubrick can’t resist going for the cerebral, ambiguous final shot of the portrait hanging in the Overlook dated 1921 with Jack smiling in a tux. What the hell? Whatever the itchy questions this raises, what it doesn’t do is stop your heart in stark, cold terror and make you sleep with the light on that night.

In an interview Stephen King goes on to further elaborate about seeing Carrie for the first time and that shock ending:

The first time I saw Carrie with an audience they previewed it about a week and a half before Halloween….The theatre was entirely full of black people. We looked like two little grains of salt in a pepper shaker, and we thought: This audience is just going to rate the hell out of this picture. What are they going to think about a skinny little white girl with her menstrual problems? And that’s the way it started, and then, little by little, they got on her side….These two guys were talking behind us, and we were listening to them, and at the end they’re putting on their coats and getting ready to leave. Suddenly this hand comes up, and these two big guys screamed along with everyone else, and one of them goes, “That’s it! That’s it! She ain’t never gonna be right!” And I knew it was going to be a hit.

Stephen King

Stephen King

He wasn’t wrong. Carrie was a hit and earned both Spacek and Laurie Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Leading and Supporting Role respectively. It’s been almost thirty years, and I can still watch this movie and be profoundly unsettled by it. Even after repeated viewings, it still has the power to scare me and I jump, no matter what, when that bloody hand comes shooting up out of the grave. Even though my mind is expecting it, my body is a slave to the involuntary startle reflex.

The Shining on the other hand, no longer has the power to really scare me. After repeated viewings, Nicholson’s  exaggerated performance doesn’t hold up. Now it’s as if he’s parodying himself. While I still enjoy it, I can no longer sit through The Shining and forget I’m watching a movie. I watch it for technique now, appreciating Kubrick’s rich cinematic canvas. The Shining is a technically perfect film, but it has no heart. I would argue that De Palma’s Carrie is all heart, an emotional experience that is only enhanced by the director’s imagination and empathy for his subject.

Some final thoughts:
Since my feelings for De Palma’s Carrie are so very strong, I have little to no interest in seeing the impending remake starring Julianne Moore as Mrs. White. When the original performances are that vivid and remarkable, any attempt to catch lightning in a bottle twice is bound to fail miserably. The risk of it coming across as a cheap imitation is too great. It may look more modern and slick, but that doesn’t mean it will be a better movie. So why remake it at all if you can’t improve upon the original? I would feel just as strongly if somebody tried to remake Spielberg’s JAWS. I’m not anti-remake, but I do believe there are certain films that need to be exempt, and Carrie is definitely one of those for me.

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