Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Countdown to Halloween day 31 – 100 things I love about horror

  1. The Corinthian
  2. Stephen King
  3. Hellraiser
  4. John Carpenter's The Thing
  5. Slither
  6. Fright night
  7. David Cronenberg
  8. Portmanteau movies
  9. "Thanks for the ride, lady"
  10. The Cabin in the Woods
  11. Josh standing in the corner
  12. Anno Dracula
  13. The Gentlemen
  14. Shaun of the Dead
  15. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
  16. Stephen King's The Shining
  17. Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
  18. Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
  19. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  20. H.P. Lovecraft
  21. Phantasm
  22. Giant animal attacks
  23. Killer dolls
  24. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
  25. Jeffrey Combs
  26. The Silver Shamrock jingle
  27. The Lost Boys
  28. "Nosferatu! Nosferatu!"
  29. American Werewolf in London
  30. Trick'R'Treat
  31. Candyman
  32. Jump scares
  33. Vincent Price
  34. The vampire episode of The X-Files
  35. The original Wicker Man
  36. Laughing at Nick Cage's Wicker Man
  37. House 
  38. The Gate
  39. The Evil Dead trilogy 
  40. Creepy killer kids
  41. The creature design in Relic
  42. "They're coming to get you Barbara"
  43. Roger Corman
  44. Drag Me to Hell
  45. Saga of the Swamp Thing 
  46. Locke and Key
  47. EC comics
  48. Basket Case 
  49. The Stuff
  50. "24 Hour Diner" in The Sandman
  51. Vampire's Kiss
  52. Howling III: The Marsupials
  53. The Rube Goldbergian deaths of Final Destination franchise
  54. Johannes Cabal, Necromancer
  55. Hellboy
  56. Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorparated
  57. Saw
  58. The opening credits of Tales From the Darkside
  59. Poltergeist
  60. Feast
  61. Loup garous
  62. Constantine tricking the devils into curing his cancer
  63. Jeepers Creepers
  64. Scream's meta-commentary
  65. Scream 4's meta-remake-commentary
  66. The Abominable Dr. Phibes
  67. Zombie hoedown in Dead and Breakfast
  68.  Holodeck Camp Crystal Lake campers
  69. Lake Placid
  70. Love Object
  71. Murder Party
  72. Cennobites
  73. "Someone's at the door.  Someone's at the door."
  74. The Company of Wolves
  75. Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things
  76. The Winchesters
  77. Vampire Willow
  78. The Mayor of Sunnydale
  79. Death Note
  80. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  81. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
  82. The trailer for Don't!
  83. The insanity that is Xtro
  84. The insanity that is the ending to Sleepaway Camp
  85. Puppetmaster
  86. Haunting of Hill House
  87. Dead Alive
  88. The Reapers from Blade II
  89. Etrigan
  90. G-Men from Hell
  91. Waxwork
  92. Kolchak: The Night Stalker
  93. Little Shop of Horrors
  94.  Heart Shaped Box
  95. Tomb of Dracula
  96. Boneyard
  97. Ludo
  98. Bill Murray's cameo in Zombieland
  99. Face-Off
  100. "Beep beep, Richie."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 30 -- 5 Horror Movies I Saw Way Too Many Times As a Kid

Back in the days before the Internet allowed me to have DVD rentals delivered to me by mail or to stream movies directly onto my TV, I had to rely on local video stores for the bulk of my movie viewing experiences.  Because I grew up in a small town, the video selection could be sparse at times, and I often found myself drawn to the same movies over and over again.  Below are five movies my parents probably got sick of seeing on our TV.

April Fool's Day -- I'm not sure what it was about this slasher flick that put it into my rental rotation more than any others, especially since it's the only movie on this list I haven't watched since I graduated high school; cue me running to Netflix to add to queue so I can refresh my memory.

Troll -- A few years back, The Lovable PigPen, Li'l Random, and I had an 80s movie weekend where we all agreed on three films to watch, and each had one personal pick.  Troll wound up being my personal pick and, well, let's just say it didn't quite live up to my memory.  But when I was a kid, the mystic transformations and strange talking mushroom creature apparently reverberated with me.

House -- Another film from our 80s movie weekend, this one definitely holds up much better, although it's also definitely a product of its time.  A crazy blend of horror and comedy with performances by a trio of 80s TV stars (William Katt, George Wendt, and Richard Moll), the film's mixture of elements entranced my young mind.

Fright Night -- Still one of my favorite vampire movies, Fright Night manages to mix horror and humor much more coherently than House, while also populating it with fully realized characters.  Plus, that theme song.

Lost Boys -- Another of my favorite vampire movies, Lost Boys has three of its protagonists meet in a comic book store and learn most of the vampire lore from a comic book; need I say more? 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 29 -- 5 Self-Aware Horror Films

5. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil -- This recent horror-comedy tells the story from two points of view:  a group of college kids who stumble across a pair of creepy looking hillbillies and then start dying off; and the two hillbillies themselves, who are innocent of any wrong-doing but who keep stumbling into situations that make them look like crazed killers.  The humor is largely derived from contrasting the kids' media-savvy expectations against the hillbillies' confusion and consternation. 

4. Scream -- Some self-aware films comment on their genre's tropes in subtle ways; the Scream movies opt for having characters straight up say "We're in a horror film, better watch out for these tropes or we'll die!"  The fact that the film often tries to subvert the tropes even as its lampshading them is a point in its favor.

3. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon -- This faux-documentary about an up-and-coming slasher about to make his first kill treats the world of slashers as real, with the slasher giving behind-the-scenes glimpses into choosing his victim, preparing his cardio for big chases, and rigging the killing location to herd his prey right where he wants them.  Much like with Scream, many of the tropes he waxes philosophic on are turned on their heads later.

2. Shaun of the Dead -- Packed with more zed-word-film-related Easter Eggs, Shaun of the Dead does the least straight-forward verbalizing of its self-aware nature, but even a passing fan of the zombie genre, such as myself, can instantly pick up on its many shout outs to the work of Romero and others. 

1. Cabin in the Woods -- Once again, I don't want to say too much about this so people can go into it fresh; suffice it to say that certain characters in this film are very, very aware of what genre they're living in, and the concordant conventions.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 28 -- 5 Favorite Sci-Fi Horror Flicks

5.  Jason X -- Should not be surprising that this tongue-in-cheek installment in the Friday the 13th series makes my list; I haven't been shy about declaring it my favorite of the films. 

4. Pitch Black -- This Vin Diesel vehicle about the survivors of a spaceship crash trying to escape a planet full of murderous nocturnal creatures while the planet is in an extended eclipse not only has some great effects and monster design, it also manages to ratchet up the "who will survive" tension so effectively that my guess for who would make it out alive was a bit off-base.

3. Slither -- James Gunn's feature length directorial debut about an alien parasite consuming a small town is blessed with a smart, funny script, a solid cast (including Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry, and Michael Rooker), inventive creature effects, and some straight up creepy moments. 

2. Alien-- The Alien franchise is infamous for how drastically different each installment is in tone, style, content, etc., and while most of the Alien films feel like more straightforward SF flicks, the original installment is a horror flick through-and-through. 

1. John Carpenter's The Thing -- Another example of a film I praise so often that I probably don't need to go into any more detail here.  The film's building sense of claustrophobia and paranoia, combined with some truly memorable special effects and creature designs, make this a must-see for anyone who even marginally enjoys horror films.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 27 -- 5 Favorite Horror Musicals

5. Cannibal: The Musical -- I've never had the pleasure of seeing a live production of this dark comedy based on the story of real life cannibal Alferd Packer from the creators of South Park, just the film version.  The comedy definitely outweighs the horror here, and most of the songs are relentlessly cheery and upbeat, if nonsensical.

4. Evil Dead: The Musical  -- Li'l Brother and I just went to a prduction of this last night in Grapevine last night; not sure I can say it's a great play, but it was definitely a great experience.  Probably works best for those who are familiar with the whole Evil Dead film trilogy, as it mashes parts of all three together and has a good number of inside jokes.

3. Jekyll & Hyde  -- I saw a production of this in Stillwater many years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. A lot of that depends on the lead's ability to shift from the two sides of his personality.

2. Little Shop of Horrors -- I fell in love with the film in Jr. High, and have gotten to see a couple of stage productions as well, including the touring company with Broadway star Anthony Rapp in the role of Seymour.  Love the show's dark and twisted sense of humor.

1.  Sweeney Todd : The Demon Barber of Fleet Street-- The OSU theater department put on a production of this when I was still working on my undergrad, and I instantly fell in love with it.  While I'm glad the Tim Burton film exposed the musical to people who might not ever have seen it, I hate that his decision to excise the theatrical chorus aspect means they didn't get the full experience.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 26 -- 5 Horror/Supernatural Comic Book Brands/Imprints

Comic book companies will occasionally take a certain theme, genre, or character, and use it as a springboard for creating a special brand or imprint of books.  Here are 5 examples of comic book brands or imprints that focused on Horror/Supernatural themes and characters.

Clive Barker's Razorline -- In the early 90s, well-known horror author Clive Barker teamed with Marvel Comics to create an imprint of comics known as Razorline.  While the plans were to have 8 separate titles in the imprint, only 4 of them saw the light of day before the imprint imploded.  Not all of the published books were horror-themed (Hyperkind was a non-supernatural superhero book, for example), but the fact that the whole line bore Barker's name made sure that they were treated like they were.

DC's Weirdoverse -- Another 90s attempt at a supernatural brand, the Weirdoverse books were all set in the main DC universe, and were only set apart by a focus on the occult.  Three of the books were reboots of pre-existing characters/series (The Book of Fate, Challengers of the Unknown, and Night Force), while the fourth was an original concept (the briefly discussed Scare Tactics).  Outside of a single crossover event, the Weirdoverse books had no real connection to each other.  While this meant they didn't all implode at once, a la Razorline, three of them were finished within a year, while Challengers made it a year and a half.

Claypool Comics' Fear City -- This is an example of a comic book company whose brand encompassed pretty much their entire output.  All of Claypool's Fear City titles were set in the town of Mystic Grove, and featured ghosts (The Phantom of Fear City), vampires (Deadbeats) and miscellaneous other mystical beings (Soulsearchers and Company).

Marvel's Midnight Sons -- The Midnight Sons brand was built to capitalize on the popularity of the 90s reboot of Ghost Rider.  The brand started off with the Rise of the Midnight Sons crossover in 1992, and although the Midnight Sons branding was dropped from the books' covers in late 1994, the Midnight Sons Unlimited anthology did manage to run into 1995.

DC's The Dark -- During DC's recent New 52 marketing ploy, all of their 52 titles were split into sub-categories based either on  core characters or similar themes.  The supernatural/horror books, which included Swamp Thing, Resurrection Man, Demon Knights, Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Justice League Dark and I, Vampire, were grouped under the slightly odd label of The Dark.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 25 -- 5 Favorite Horror-Comedy Comic Books

Soulsearchers and Company -- Part of Claypool Comics' "Fear City" books, Soulsearchers actually began its life as a pitch from writer Peter David who was wanting to do a series at Marvel about Daimon Hellstrom and his wife Patsy Walker (formerly the super-heroine Hellcat) as occult detectives.  After the pitch was rejected, David reworked the concept into this humor-laden series. Filled with puns and pop culture references as much of David's work is, the series took shots at all sorts of horror and comic book tropes.

Wolff and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre / Supernatural Law  -- This series by Batton Lash follows a couple of lawyers who specialize in cases with a supernatural slant.  Much like Soulsearchers, Supernatural Law referenced a ton of different horror stories, only with a bit less punnage. You can read some of Wolff and Byrd's adventures online for free

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service -- This manga series follows a group of oddballs with a range of unusual skills such as embalming, dowsing for dead bodies, and communicating with the spirits of dead who, having trouble findiing work, start their own company based on finding corpses and then trying to fulfill the dead's last wishes in hopes of it leading to some sort of reward from the living.  There are some moment of real horror sprinkled throughout the series, but the tone leans more heavily towards humor based around the strange members of the crew.

Goon -- Eric Powell's hilarious series about a no-nonsense gang enforcer who constantly finds himself having to fit supernatural creatures such as vampires, zombies, witches, giant squids, and skunk apes, is hard to do justice to with a brief description.  So, instead, check out this proof of concept video for a proposed film

I want this to happen so much

Boneyard --Richard Moore's Boneyard is the story of Michael Paris, a young man who inherits a graveyard inhabited by a wide range of supernatural beings, from Nessie, an oversexed female Creature from the Black Lagoon (with a jealous Frankenstein monster husband),  to Glump, a bumbling demon exiled from Hell for doing something nice who is constantly trying to take over the world but is more Pinky than Brain.   Honestly, Glump is the reason this book is #1 on my list; yes, the rest of the cast is great, but Glump is a non-stop fun-ride. 

Honorable Mention: Blue Devil --If you haven't guessed it yet from the fact that I've managed to work a mention of him into the last 4 days worth of posts, I'm a fan of Blue Devil, or at least the pre-selling-his-soul version of BD.  And while the horror elements in the series were really too sparse to earn it a true spot on the list, I just had to give it one last shout out.  Plus, part-way through the run, long-time DC horror anthology hosts Cain and Abel became partial cast members, after BD moves into The House of Weirdness.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 24 -- 10 Comic Book Horror Teams

If there's one motto that most comic book writers live by, it's that "More is more." So, what's better than a single horror-themed character?  A team of horror-themed characters, of course.

Night Shift -- The Night Shift was the first group that came to mind when I came up with this topic. They were a group of oddball villains recruited by The Shroud, a hero who pretended to be a villain who prayed on other villains. Eventually the group caught wise to the Shroud's M.O. and struck out on their own. Not all of the team were horror-based, but the majority were: Digger, The Brothers Grimm, Dansen Macabre, The Hangman, and Werewolf by Night. One of the things I've always liked about The Night Shift was that much of their membership was comprised of characters who had appeared in the old Spider-Woman series, during the days when it read more like a horror comic than a super-hero one.

Creature Commandos -- First appearing in DC's Weird War Tales, the Commandos were a group of soldiers recruited into Project M., an army program designed to strike fear into the enemies' hearts by turning the recruits into facsimiles of archetypal horrors. Their ranks included a vampire, werewolf, Frankenstein monster, and gorgon. There have been a couple of  iterations of this concept over the years, but it's the original group I'm most familiar with.

Legion of Monsters --  The first version of the Legion of Monsters -- Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Morbius the Living Vampire, and Werewolf by Night -- was one of those non-teams that pop up in comics now and then, wherein the characters would get drawn together every once in a while to defeat a foe, but who wouldn't really consider themselves a team, so the name was more of a branding tool than anything else. The more recent version substituted The Living Mummy and Manphibian for Ghost Rider, and were formed with the goal of protecting other "monsters" like themselves.

Creeper and His Spirit Squad -- Another non-team, this one only appeared once, in Blue Devil Summer Fun Special #1 to stop Felix Faust from bringing the demon Nebiros to Earth.  Brought together by professional mystic meddlers Phantom Stranger and Madame Xanadu, the group included Blue Devil, Man-Bat, The Creeper, Black Orchid, and Etrigan the Demon.  At the end of the adventure, Creeper suggested they stay together as a team, and suggested "Creeper and His Spirit Squad" as a name; sadly, nobody jumped at the offer.

Nick Fury's Howling Commandos --With a name that's a play on the original "Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos" war comics, this short lived group was a supernaturally themed espionage squad whose members included a werewolf, vampire, mummy, Frankenstein monster, and a zombie.

Shadowpact -- Shadowpact was a team comprised of various mystically powered DC characters, and while I have tried to avoid putting teams on this list whose characters were merely supernatural, there are enough characters in the Shadowpact who have some sort of demonic or black magic component in their roots (Blue Devil, Enchantress, Nightshade), that I feel there inclusion is warranted here.

Scare Tactics -- The only team on the list containing no pre-existing characters, Scare Tactics was a rock-and-roll band whose members were all supernatural creatures:  a werewolf, a vampire, a lizard man, and a mutant.

Midnight Sons--  Originally, the name Midnight Sons was applied to a group of 90s horror themed comic book characters  from Marvel who were brought together to ride on Ghost Rider's coattails for sales defeat Lillith, Mother of Demons.  The group included Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, The Nightstalkers, Morbius the Living Vampire, and the Darkhold Redeemers. More recently, the name was recycled with a different group of supernatural heroes who were recruited to stop an interdimensional zombie invasion in Marvel Zombies 4. This team included Man-Thing, Daimon Hellstrom, Jennifer Kale, Morbius, and, once again, Werewolf by Night..

The Headmen -- One of the stranger things to come out of Steve Gerber's run on The Defenders -- and trust me, that's saying something -- The Headmen might not seem very horror-oriented at first glance, but 3/4 of the team were actually characters recycled from old Marvel horror anthology stories.

Justice League Dark -- As part of DC's New 52 initiative, many of the supernatural characters who had been plucked from the main DC continuity and placed solely in the Vertigo imprint were brought back into the mainstream fold.  Justice League Dark became a housing place for several of them, such as Black Orchid, Shade the Changing Man, and John Constantine, as well as other,non-Vertigo characters like Deadman and Zatanna. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 23 -- Favorite horror themed superheroes

If you can name a popular genre or sub genre, odds are good that at some point it has been mashed up with the superhero genre. Horror is no exception; below are some of my favorite superheroes who have some sort of horror theme to them. I tried to be somewhat limiting on my definition of superhero, which is why you won't see Hellboy or Swamp Thing listed.  So, in no particular order:

The Demon – Some might quibble about calling Etrigan the Demon a superhero, but I think he fits into the general superhero mold: he has a colorful outfits he transforms back and forth between a a super-powered and civilian identity, he has often teamed up with the likes of Superman or Batman, and, most importantly, has gotten into fights with other superheroes over a misunderstanding before eventually teaming up to fight the real bad guy.  If that last bit doesn't scream "superhero," what does? Granted, the level of Etrigan's heroism has varied over the years, but ultimately in my mind he will always be a demonic power for good.

Blue Devil – Originally, Blue Devil was horrific in appearance but not in reality: a stuntman who created an exoskeleton for our a devilishly themed movie, and then was permanently bonded to the suit by an encounter with a real demon. I was a big fan of Blue Devil's solo series back in the 80s, which was filled with weirdness and humor.  Blue Devil eventually sold his soul to Neron for fame during the Underworld Unleashed storyline and subsequently became a true demon.

Ghost Rider – Probably the most recognizable of the Horror-themed heroes due to his iconic blazing skull, I've always been more partial to the original Johnny Blaze incarnation than the 90s reboot, if for no other reason that the original was part of the 2nd oddest super-hero team of the 70s, The Champions.

Gargoyle – The hero known as Gargoyle was originally a senior citizen named Isaac Christians who made a deal with a group of demons known as The Six-Fingered Hand to save his home town, and in turn had his mind and soul trapped inside a demonic body as their servant. After rebelling against the Hand, Christians became a member of one of my favorite superhero teams, The Defenders (a.k.a the #1 oddest super-hero team of 70s). I always enjoyed the incongruity between his outward appearance and his cheery disposition.

Daimon Hellstrom, Son of Satan – The Defenders were often a home to the offbeat heroes with a mystical bent, and Daimon Hellstrom was one of the more prominent one for several years. Son of a demon claiming to be Satan -- although the actual identity of which demon fathered him has been retconned a few times -- Hellstrom rebelled against his father's evil ways and sought to do good in the world. Of course, during the grim'n'gritty 90s, that aspect of his personality went awry as he fell prey to his demonic roots for a time, becoming much more of an anti-hero.

The Confessor – A character from Kurt Busiek's Astro City series, The Confessor initially appeared to be just a religious themed vigilante, but was eventually revealed to be a former priest afflicted with vampirism who wore a cross on his costume because the constant pain it caused him helped keep his bloodlust in check. 

Madman – While not overtly Horror themed at first glance, the hero known as Madman  is actually a reanimated corpse named -- are you ready? -- Frank Einstein . . . named after Frank Sinatra and Albert Einstein, of course. 

The Spectre – The ghost of a murdered police office, The Spectre started out in the 1940s as a supernatural crimefighter with a penchant for bloody justice, but his deadly inclinations drifted away gradually until he became a more standard supernatural superhero.  But in the 70s  his bloodlust returned with a vengeance, which The Spectre killing criminals in inventively gruesome ways -- most often by transforming them into inanimate objects (glass, wax candles, etc) and then demolishing them.  After a return to a less murderous incarnation during the 80s, John Ostrander's take on the character fully established him as The Wrath of God permanently bonded with a human soul, and used the character's vengeful ways to explore questions of morality . . . while still maintaining a gruesomely horror-tinged tone.

Deadman -- The ghost of murdered trapeze artist Boston Brand was forced to roam the Earth trying to locate his killer, frequently aiding those in need with his power to possess people. 

Magik -- The younger sister of the X-man known as Colossus, Illyana Rasputin spent the bulk of her young life trapped in the demonic realm of Limbo, where she learned to become a powerful sorceress in order to battle the lord of Limbo, Belasco.  However, in defeating Belasco and usurping his place as Limbo's ruler, Illyana delved into black magic.  After returning to Earth, she became a member of the New Mutants and struggled to keep her darker impulses under control, a struggle which eventually resulted in her transformation into the Darkchylde and unleashing Hell (or, more accurately, Limbo) on Earth.  She eventually sacrificed herself, and, as this is the comic book world, would later be resurrected, albeit minus quite a bit of her humanity.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 22 -- Favorite Horror-Themed Comic Book Crossover Events

For the next seven days we're going to be focusing on Horror in comic books.  Kicking it off is a list of some of my favorite comic book crossover events with Horror-themed plots. . . which is actually a pretty skimpy list, all things considered.

4. Blackest Night -- DC's story about about a force resurrecting various heroes and villains and equipping them with power rings a la Green Lantern had its detractors to be sure, and like many comic crossovers, several books suffered from a lack of editorial cohesion, but when the writers were able to play up the inner turmoil of heroes having to fight loved ones or face their past mistakes, the event clicked.

3. Underworld Unleashed -- This event's focus was a demon named Neron who began making all sorts of Faustian bargains with heroes and villains as part of a plan to take over the world.  Although I wasn't a fan of one of the big plot points of the series -- namely Blue Devil being responsible for the death of nearly the entire supporting cast of his old series -- the event's gimmick of boosting or transforming the abilities of a wide range of villains made for an interesting read.

2. Rise of the Midnight Sons -- While I didn't follow a lot of Marvel's Midnight Sons imprint of Horror themed comics, I was taken with the crossover event that kicked off the brand by teaming up Ghost Rider, Blade, Morbius the Living Vampire, and others against Lillith, Mother Demons and her demon brood, the Lilin.

1. Inferno -- Probably my favorite of the early X-book crossovers, Inferno featured a New York overrun with demonic forces which possessed heroes, villains, and mailboxes alike.  I especially enjoyed the Excalibur portion of the story which had the team get trapped in a series of Horror movie parodies. 

Honorable Mention:  Infestation -- While I haven't had a chance to read any of IDW's crossover event about dimension hopping zombies, the fact that the core titles involved were Transformers, Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe, and Star Trek makes me very intrigued.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 21 -- Favorite Candy (Chocolate Division)

Allergy meds are making me a bit foggy, so coming up with an in-depth list is out of the question right now.  Instead:  a list of my favorite chocolate-based candies.

10. Nestle Crunch
9. York Peppermint Pattie
8. Hershey's Bar
7. Hershey's Kisses

6. 3 Musketeers

5. M&Ms (Plain)
4. M&Ms (peanut)
3. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

2. Kit-Kat
1. Twix

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 20 -- 5 Memorable Horror Movie Watching Experiences

Occasionally, my thoughts and feelings about a film are inextricably linked to my experience viewing them; here are a few of the most prominent horror movie examples.

Friday the 13th Pts. 1& 2 -- I was probably 7 or 8 at the time I saw my first Friday the 13th film. My parents were out on the town on one Friday the 13th evening, and my uncle was taking care of me. This was during the brief period of time that we actually had a cable channel that was willing to go far enough outside of town to reach our farm, and since It (the capital I is no mistake, the name of the channel was It) was showing the first two films in the series that night, my uncle decided to take my two slightly older cousins and myself over to my house to watch them. Of course, the house was locked, and I was too young to have a key (although, to be honest, by the time the house burned down before my junior year of college I still didn't have a key), and so we were forced to find a way to open the never-used door to my bedroom just enough for scrawny me to slip in and unlock the back door. We got that TV on just in time to find out who the killer was in pt.1 and were halfway through pt.2 when mom and dad got home. 

Halloween III: Season of the Witch -- Largely decried as the worst of the Halloween franchise, Season of the Witch is probably the horror movie that freaked me out more than any other film I've seen, but that's largely situational.  I was probably in 6th or 7th grade at the time, and was staying up late to watch it on TV. Or, rather, I was trying to stay up late, but wound up dozing off.  I happened to wake up right at this sequence.  While it probably wouldn't have bothered me at all any other time, I was still half-asleep and unsure if I was really awake or still dreaming, and wound up incorporating the scene into my dreams as I dozed off again; in my mind, that sequence is about 1000 times more disturbing.

Nightmare on Elm Street -- This one is memorable largely because of when I didn't watch it.  My dad and his cousin had rented it when it first came out, and watched it while I was asleep.  When I noticed it sitting by the VCR the next day and wanted to watch it, my dad wouldn't let me -- the first and only time he'd vetoed a horror movie.  He said that it had gotten to both of the adults, so he was worried it would really freak me out.  Instead, he just related the whole story to me.  And then, just a week or two later, I was over at someone else's house and they had rented it so I got to see it after all; however, since I already knew the whole story, I was ready for every jolt.

Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors -- The only one of these stories that's not connected to my original viewing of the film.  Instead, this experience happened one Halloween season when my friend Rebel Monkey and I were having a Nightmare on Elm Street marathon.  As the films progressively slid down the "tongue in cheek" slope into utter ridiculousness we would increasingly turn to MST3K style commenting.  But the highlight of all of them was the so-bad-she's-funny actress who played the character Taryn; just watching her own special brand of over-acting made the movie worthwhile. At one point one of the other actors accidentally calls her "Turn," a scene which we reran several times trying to make sure we heard what we thought we heard. A few weeks later, when a group of us went to see the local production of Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical, we both noticed one particularly strikingly scenery-chewer, prompting us to look at each other and exclaim "It's Turn!"

13 Ghosts -- After seeing the 2001 remake of 13 Ghosts, the same group of friends who'd gone to see the Jekyll and Hyde musical got together to watch a DVD of the original 1960 film.  The DVD turned out to have the 3D version of the film but of course did not come equipped with any 3D glasses. Not to be deterred, we set about trying to construct our own makeshift 3D glasses out of saran wrap and some red and blue markers. The results were surprisingly effective, if slightly nauseating -- not because of the visuals, mind you, but because of the overpowering marker stench.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 19 -- 10 Favorite Horror Directors

My favorite horror directors, in no particular order 
  • David Cronenberg -- Although I've enjoyed Cronenberg's more recent forays into other genres, I do miss his old school body horror films.  The Fly, The Brood, Rabid, Shivers, and Videodrome all feature some wonderfully disturbing sequences.  And we can't forget Scanners and its infamous exploding head.
  • John Carpenter -- Carpenter is responsible for Halloween and The Thing, two of my all time favorite movies, as well as several other entertaining horror flicks like The Fog and Prince of Darkness; we'll all just pretend that Vampire$  didn't happen, okay?
  • Peter Jackson -- Before he achieved mainstream success, Jackson's early work was very horror driven, although filtered through a Kiwi's twisted sense of humor. Dead Alive, The Frighteners, and the apropriately named Bad Taste made me a fan of Jackson's long before he brought Middle Earth to life.
  • George Romero -- At times it's tempting to write Romero off as a one-trick pony, since his name is so closely associated with zombies, but he has several other entertaining horror films under his belt, including The Crazies, Monkey Shines, Creepshow, and the excellent Martin.
  • Frank Henenlotter -- Not as well known outside horror fans as most of the others on the list, Henenlotter's work is darkly comic, occasionally perverse, and frequently twisted. Basket Case is my favorite of his films, but both Bad Biology and Brain Damage have a lot to recommend them too.
  • Stuart Gordon -- He'd make this list for his Lovecraft adaptations (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon) alone; the super-creepy Dolls is just icing on the cake
  • Wes Craven -- Craven is a bit hit or miss with me, but when he hits -- Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, The people Under the Stairs -- he hits big
  • Guillermo del Toro --  I've been a fan of del Toro since Mimic, and most everything of his I've seen since (Cronos, The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth) has cemented my admiration.  Plus, he brought Hellboy to the big screen.
  • Sam Raimi -- Raimi's horror output may be relatively small (Evil Dead trilogy and Drag Me to Hell), but the quality trumps the low quantity.
  • Steven Miner -- I was having a hard time rounding out my list to 10, since several of the directors I'd like to have listed haven't had enough horror films under their belt to warrant their inclusion. But, while scouring lists of my favorite horror films looking for patterns I discovered Steven Miner, director of Friday the 13th Pt 2 & 3, as well as two of my favorite horror comedies:  House and Lake Placid. Throw in guilty plesaure Warlock, and you have the perfect placeholder until Sean Gunn or Drew Goddard finally get around to making some more horror

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 18 -- 13 Favorite Horror Novels

13. Agyar by Steven Brust -- Very interesting vampire novel in which the word "vampire" is never actually used. Told from the P.O.V. of a very unreliable narrator, the book leaves a lot of gaps for the reader to fill in, which I really enjoyed. It’s always nice when an author respects his audience's intelligence.

12.  The Ruins by Scott Smith -- Smith makes his four main characters embody the horror film victim archetypes -- jokester, slut, preppie, final girl -- and even goes so far as to have the jokester character point this out at one point, but by having the narration live heavily inside the heads of the characters, we are given much more insight into their motivations, which helps subvert the tropes.

11. Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist -- If he hadn't slipped my mind yesterday, I probably would have included Lindqvist in my favorite horror writer list; this story of an isolated island and the dark magic lurking there reminds me of Stephen King at his best.

10. Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice-- For me, the third book in Rice's Vampire Chronicles is a quantum leap in quality over the first two (which I enjoyed), followed by a geometric decrease in quality in the fourth (which I loathed tremendously). 

9. It by Stephen King -- Notable to me as (a) the first book I ever read over 1,000 pages long and (b) one of the first books I ever read that managed to evoke a visceral feeling of disgust -- but, y'know, in a good way. 

8.Summer of Night by Dan Simmons -- This story of a group of sixth graders fighting against the forces of evil in a small Illinois town in the summer of 1960 almost feels like Simmons doing a King homage, and doing it incredibly well.  I was very invested in the main characters, and the deaths really go to me; that's a good horror novel right there.

7.Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson -- An excellent haunted house story.  Do not judge it by the horrible 1999 film adaptation; this book is all about psychological terror, not gruesome spectacle.

6.Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill -- Hill's debut novel about an aging rocker whose collection of macabre artifacts leads to a dangerous haunting did great justice to his literary heritage as Stephen King's son. 

5. Ghost Story by Peter Straub -- This is one that I chose to read initially because I loved the film adaptation, only to discover that the book is significantly different -- shocking, I know.  By far my favorite of Straub's books.

4. The Stand by Stephen King -- One of the few non-Dark-Tower King novels I've read multiple times, which is saying something considering the size of this thing.  Of course, one of those times was the original, abridged version, but still . . .

3.Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist -- That's right, another book by Lindqvist; told you he should have been on yesterday's list.  And while his Harbor felt very King-esque, this vampire novel which inspired an excellent film adaptation has a voice all of its own.

2. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman -- Can't say enough good things about Newman's vampiric alternate history novel; the numerous cameos from various historical and literary characters (much like Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentleman) only adds to my love.

1. The Shining by Stephen King --It's been a few years since I've re-read King's take early take on a haunted mansion; I think I'm overdue to visit the Overlook again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 17 -- 10 Favorite Horror Authors

I hesitate to even compile this list, as I don't read nearly as much horror fiction as one might expect, so I have very little experience with the works of some pretty major authors such as Robert Bloch or Richard Matheson. But, I can worry about expanding my horror fiction knowledge-base before next year's Halloween countdown -- for now, I'll just focus on the authors for whom I have read multiple works.

10. Clive Barker -- I haven't read a lot of Barker's work, and most of it would probably fall more under the heading of Fantasy than Horror.  I have, however, enjoyed his horror short stories quite a bit, especially "The Forbidden," which was the basis of Candyman.

9. F. Paul Wilson -- I haven't read any of Wilson's work since high school, but I really enjoyed his Adversary Cycle, which took characters from his first three seemingly unconnected novels (The Keep, The Tomb, The Touch) and brought them together for an apocalyptic storyline that spanned three more books (Reborn, Reprisal, and the concluding novel Nightworld which I just now discovered existed -- something new to add to my ever growing reading list)

8. Robert McCammon -- I enjoyed McCammon's Mystery Walk, short story collection Blue World, and the post-apocalyptic novel Swan Song, but it's really the strength of Mine that earns him a spot on the list.

7. Peter Straub -- If I were just going off the strength of his excellent Ghost Story alone, Straub would be higher on my list; as it is, while I liked Julia and Mr. X okay, they didn't exactly grab me, and his recent book A Dark Matter started off strong, but totally lost me by the end.

6. Joe Hill -- I was already a fan of Hill from his horror comic Locke & Key before I sampled his novel Horns, saw his picture on the back cover, and thought to myself "Gee, he could pass for Stephen King's son."  It wasn't until I was looking him up on line to find out what else he had written that I discovered that there's a very good reason for that . . . Anyway, while I enjoyed Horns quite a bit, his debut novel Heart Shaped Box was one of the best horror novels I've read in ages.

5. Dean Koontz -- I'll admit to eventually growing a bit disillusioned with the prolific Koontz's later works, but I devoured his work in the 80s and 90s.  Watchers, Midnight, Phantoms, Whispers, The Bad Place, Dragon Tears, Intensity -- they may not have been great literature, but they captured my imagination enough to lead me to track down everything of his I could find.

4. Dan Simmons -- Although I've read more of Simmons Sci-Fi work than his Horror work, the Horror novels of his I have read (Song of Kali, The Terror, Summer of Night) have all been very different, but very well done; I especially enjoyed Summer of Night, which I reviewed a few years back.

3. H. P. Lovecraft -- Very few writers have managed to give me chills; some of the descriptive passages in Lovecraft's story "Pickman's Model" did precisely that.  For that alone he'd make this list.

2. Kim Newman --While I enjoyed Newman's Jago and Bad Dreams more than his The Quorum, his high ranking on this list is based primarily on his Anno Dracula series, which postulates a world wherein the vampiric count escapes Van Helsing and crew and becomes ruler of England, making vampirism fashionable.  The first novel in the series is one of my favorite books, and I'm glad to hear that a new volume, Johnny Alucard, is scheduled to be published next year.

1. Stephen King -- Was there really any doubt on this one? The Stand, It, Desperation, Salem's Lot, Bag of Bones, Misery, and, of course, The Shining; even with a handful of books that I didn't care for -- I'm looking at you, Tommyknockers and Insomnia -- the bulk of King's work resonates with me on a level it's hard to ignore.  Plus, his It is another work that gave me chills.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 16 -- Torture Films

ModifierTorture Films
Type:  Negative

Let me start by saying that yes, this is the sub-genre that is actually referred to as "Torture Porn" by most critics.  And while I am not a fan of the sub-genre on the whole, I find the superior tone and air of condemnation inherent in the label to be off-putting.  The label carries with it a judgement that any film featuring characters undergoing torture is automatically demonstrating torture for torture's sake, with no underlying message or point.  And while that may describe the majority of Torture films, there are at least a handful of films that have received the name which I would argue have merit beyond their gore-drenched scenes. 

The basic Torture film involves a person (or group of people) being held captive by someone who subjects them to some form of torture as a means to an end, even if that end is just satisfying the torturer's blood lust. The torture may be straightforward, but there are quite a few films wherein the torture is not only more complex, but targeted towards each victim (see: the Saw franchise).

My desire to view Torture films is fairly low.  I often find them unsettling, especially with the unfortunate tendency to showcase violence towards scantily clad women in a way that makes the "torture porn" epithet all too appropriate.  In order for a Torture film to capture my interest, it has to have a plot outside of just torture or, at the very least, portray some innovation in the torture itself; (see, again, the Saw franchise).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 15 -- 10 Favorite Slasher Flicks

Honorable mentionNightmare on Elm Street:  Personally, I don't think of the Elm Street movies as being slasher films, since the death-in-dreams concept moves it away from the more grounded aspects of the genre that appeal to me.  On the other hand, just because the deaths happen in the dream-world doesn't mean that Freddy's behavior deviates from the usual slasher formula, and it tends to show up on everyone else's slasher lists, so I sort of feel compelled to mention it just to explain why it's not in the list.

10.  Sleepaway Camp: On the whole, just your average "oh no, somebody's killing the campers!" flick. Fairly well done, but nothing super exciting. So what merits its place on this list? The ending. The big twist ending. The big "holy crap, what were they smoking when they came up with that?!?!" ending. If you want to know what the ending was, just ask my friend The Mag, who still carries the psychological scars with her to this day.

9. Child's Play:  The later films went a little too far in the "wisecracking killer" department, but the first installment in the killer doll franchise does well with the novel concept. Plus, Brad Dourif doing voodoo; can't go wrong there.

8. Scream 4: One of those rare late-in-the-franchise sequels that really manages to capture the spirit, wit, and fun of the original.  It was helped greatly by the fact that it was able to capitalize on the glut of horror remakes and apply the meta-commentary style of the first film to the latest horror trend.  

7. Black Christmas: Of the various Christmas-themed horror films I've seen, Black Christmas stands out in terms of characters, tension, creepiness, and decision to not have the killer dress like Santa.  

6.  Popcorn:  Entertaining early 90s horror flick about a group of film students who are picked off one by one while hosting a horror marathon .  Lots of nods to classic horror films, engaging characters, and a fun script make this a movie that still holds up today.

5. Jason X:  Yes, that's right; my sole Friday the 13th selection is "Jason in Space." Although I enjoy the early films in the franchise -- I've done marathons multiple times over the years -- in a lot of ways they all blend together enough that it's hard to pick one out as a favorite.  Jason X, however, manages to take a concept that initially made me roll my eyes and turn it into a fun movie that embraces the inherent silliness and pays homage to all that came before.

4. Scream: First (and, perhaps not coincidently, best) of the overly-self-aware-and-self-referential horror films. Found just the right mix of humor, thrills, and pop culture for me.  
3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Considering the near-mythic status the original film has obtained, I was pretty surprised the first time I saw it; in terms of slasher films, it was really pretty tame, gore-wise. That didn't lessen my enjoyment of the film, of course. Tons of creepy characters help propel the film, especially the near-mummified Grandpa. Creeps me out every time.
2. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon: A faux-documentary showing the behind-the-scenes preparations that go into being a first rate slasher.  Although filled with self-aware humor, this is most definitely a horror film, not a comedy, especially once the slasher's plans are set in motion.  I just found out that a proposed sequel has had trouble getting funding, which makes me very sad.

1. Halloween: Best of the old-school slasher films. Yes, it set the dangerous precedent of "no matter what we do, he just won't die!" which would come to haunt the genre over the years, but the idea of Michael Myers as this unstoppable force of nature made it work incredibly well in this film. I always liked the creepy score as well.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 14 -- Slashers

Type:  Positive

The Slasher sub-genre's set-up is, at it's heart, pretty straightforward:  an unbalanced person begins to kill off a group of people one at a time.  Often, the urge to kill is a form of revenge, either against the specific people who wronged the slasher, or against a group of people who symbolize the slasher's former antagonists, but occasionally the slasher is just powered by an unquenchable blood-lust. Of course, even when concrete motivations are given, there is often some slippage in the consistency of victim selection, especially in long-running franchises such as Friday the 13th, which abandoned the whole "killing camp counselors" idea about four films in.   Since the mid-80s, there has been a move to give slashers some sort of visual or conceptual hook in an effort to impart upon them an iconic and indelible image along the lines of Michael Meyer's bleach-white mask, Jason Voorhees' hockey mask, or Freddy Kruegar's knife-fingered glove.  The slasher may be a normal human being, or might have some sort of supernatural undertones.  Most slasher victims are in their teens or early 20s, and many hold that slasher stories operate on some sort of moral code wherein teens who break societal rules (premarital sex, drug use, disrespect towards authority) are quickly punished.

I am a sucker for a Slasher film, but I have a hard time articulating just why they draw me in so easily.  I have hypothesized that it may stem from the familiar structure that serves as the underpinning of all Slasher stories; they in effect serve as a cinematic equivalent of comfort food, letting me get caught up in their predictable rhythms and just go with the flow.  And yes, if I come across a Slasher story that plays around with expectations or inverts/exploits the usual tropes, I'm thrilled; but, unlike with, say,  Zombie stories, I don't find the repetition of form to be a hindrance to enjoyment.

I think another aspect that makes Slasher films affect me is that they unnerve me in a way that the more supernaturally themed Horror films cannot. I don't on any level believe in vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc., but a mass-murdering psychopath?  My farther the RN used to work in a forensic psychiatric hospital filled with people who plead Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, so I know all to well that they're out there.  And while the slashers who pop up in film are heightened and exaggerated versions of the real life killers, having a more concrete basis in reality makes Slasher stories more effective for me.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Dady 13 -- 5 Horror Musicals I Want to See

When I was living in Stillwater, there were a couple of Halloweens in a row where the local community theater put on some sort of horror-themed musical.   I would love to find somewhere around here that was carrying on the tradition, as there are several horror musicals I'd still like to see.

5.Phantom of the Opera -- This is one I'd like to see on stage just for the sheer spectacle of it all.

4.  Carrie: the Musical -- Okay, I'll admit that this one is born more out of morbid curiosity than anything else, as this is known most for being a horrendous flop on Broadway.  As such, the odds of my ever seeing a production are pretty much nil, but that only increases my certainty that if a production ever sprang up close to Denton, I'd be first in line.

3.  Dracula: The Musical -- No, I don't mean the puppet musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, although that's only because it doesn't really exist; if it did, I'd be all over that.  Instead, this is a more straightforward musical take on Bram Stoker's novel.  Like Carrie, it was originally a flop, but after some major re-tooling, the show has gotten some more favorable notice.  Most of my desire to see it springs from watching one of the contestants on PBS's Broadway or Bust perform a song from it .

2. Bat Boy: the Musical -- This story losely inspired by the Weekly World News "Bat boy" story won several awards and positive reviews for its Off-Broadway premiere, which bumps it above most of the other horror musicals you read about.

1.  Evil Dead: The Musical --  I think the Evil Dead series of films, with their progressively cartoonish, over the top characters and violence, lend themselves well to a musical comedy, so I was intrigued when I first heard about the show.  The main reason it's #1 is that last night a friend told me that there's actually a production nearby the week of Halloween, so my intrigue has turned to full-blown excitement.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 12 - 10 Favorite Horror TV Series

While scouring lists of horror TV shows to compile the following, I became aware that there's quite a few shows out there that I've never seen; so, please feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments about other horror shows I should check out.

10. Dead Last -- This unfortunately short-lived WB series from 2001 -- they only aired 8 of the 13 episodes filmed -- followed the members of a band who found themselves cursed to see dead people.  Despite their best efforts, the trio of slackers would inevitably get sucked into helping restless spirits move on to the other side, usually in comedic ways.  Definitely the least horrific of this top 10, but I loved the show so much in its brief run, I felt the need to give it a shout out.

9. Kolchak: The Night Stalker -- I only have vague memories of watching this in my childhood, but I remember being sufficiently creeped out by this mid-70s series about a reporter who keeps stumbling onto supernatural stories. 

8. Tales From the Darkside -- I'll admit that my favorite episode of this anthology series was the not-so-horror-themed "Fear of Floating," but there were still plenty of fun horror stories along its four season run. Plus, the opening credits always freaked me out as a kid; for something so minimalist, the creepy music and voiceover really struck a chord in me

7. American Gothic -- For years, the only thing I knew about this show was what I recalled from its advertisements:  a young girl with a Southern accent rocking back and forth chanting "Someone's at the door, someone's at the door" while some unseen force assaulted her home. Even though I never caught an episode during its initial run, that ad stuck in my head, and I would frequently quote it.  This past year, I finally watched the whole series on Hulu, and was pleasently surprised to find out that the chanting girl was none other than Sarah Paulson, one of my favorite actresses. As for the series itself, while it was a bit uneven over its single season in terms of character development, the show's focus on the battle between a vengeful spirit and the evil sheriff who killed her (great character actor Gary Cole) over the soul of a young boy (a very young Lucas Black) lead to some well-done horror-themed episodes.

6. Masters of Horror -- This horror anthology series which aired on Showtime spotlighted a different well-known horror director each episode.  Because there was such a wide variety of creators working on it, it was a bit hit or miss, but when it hit, it was some danged scary stuff.

5. Vampire Diaries -- I recently talked about my marathon viewing of the first 3 seasons of this fearless series over at my Reviews of Doom page, but to sum up:  crazy plot twists and a sense that nobody's safe helps this series rise above its high school vampire romance roots. 

4. Friday the 13th: The Series -- For the uninitiated, no, this series was not about the weekly misadventures of Jason Voorhees; indeed, outside of sharing a producer, there was no connection between this show and the film series.  Instead, the series followed two cousins who discover that the antique shop they inherited from their uncle was filled with cursed objects, but only after they sell off all the stock, which forces them to track all of the deadly items down.  I was a big fan of the show as a kid; I'm kind of sad it's not available on Netflix.

3. Supernatural -- Although this series about a couple of monster-hunting brothers has probably gone on a couple of seasons too long, for the bulk of its run it managed to deftly meld horror and humor in a way that has earned it a passionate fan base.  And speaking passionate fan bases

1/2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Angel -- the shows that started the Cult of Whedon.  While probably best known for their habit of subverting genre conventions and mangling the English language in the incredibly entertaining/annoying (people's mileage on that varies) way that only Joss Whedon characters can, both of these series still managed to serve up the scary and the creepy on a regular basis.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 11 -- 5 of My Favorite Horror Songs

A few years back over on Crisis of Infinite Monkeys I did a "13 Clips of Halloween" series of posts featuring music videos with a Halloweenish flavor, but many of them were regular songs with horror themed videos. Below are some of my favorite songs that actually have horror-flavored lyrics.

"Halloween" by Steven Lynch --Lynch has become one of my favorite musical comedians, and this disturbing and creepy song was my introduction to his twisted sense of humor.

"Fright Night" by the J Geils Band -- Yes, this song is incredibly dated, but young Todd fell in love with it just as much as the movie it appeared in, so the nostalgia factor is high.  Plus, how can you not love a song with a lyric like "can't you see he's tearing us apart/ I've got to drive a stake right through his heart"?

 "I Am Vampire" by Crankcaller -- couldn't find a video for this enjoyably creepy song about a would-be vampire, but did at least find a link to the song itself

"Lake Pontchartrain" by Ludo -- It's really hard to pick just one horror-themed song from Ludo -- how do you choose from the psycho-killer's plaintive-yet-horribly-depraved love ballad "The Horror of Our Love" or the celebration of the danse macabre "Skeletons on Parade"? In the end, I had to go with the cautionary tale of "Lake Pontchartrain"

"Vampires Will Never Hurt You" by My Chemical Romance -- Much like with Steven Lynch's "Halloween", this vampire hunter love song was my introduction to My Chemical Romance; while I've become a fan of the band, this song holds a special place in my heart.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 10 -- Zombies


The Zombie sub-genre may boil down to one simple idea -- the living dead -- but within that simple idea is a wealth of variation.  In the pre-George Romero days, zombies were primarily tied up with stories about voodoo, and were usually portrayed as mindless slaves doing someone else's evil bidding.  But, post-Romero, the term began to be applied to a different type of creature: a mindless,shambling, reanimated corpse that hungers for human flesh.  Following Return of the Living Dead and Re-Animator, a few variations on the Romero archetype became associated with the idea of zombies in pop culture, such as a taste for eating brains and limbs that moved of their own volition even when separated from the brain stem.  In the early 2000s, zombie stories began to feature "fast" zombies, which are much more aggressive and coordinated than the slow, shambling creatures popularized by Romero. Increasingly, zombie stories are focused on the idea of a zombie apocalypse, wherein civilization collapses under the strain of dealing with the walking dead.

I have to admit, I don't understand the fascination with zombie stories in general, and the zombie apocalypse stories specifically.  While there are several zombie stories I've enjoyed thoroughly, their suddenly ubiquitous presence in popular culture has driven me to zombie burnout.  While most of my Enjoyment Modifiers affect my positively or negatively based purely on their inherent nature, Zombie stories have become a negative for me simply through media over-saturation.  The sheer number of cookie-cutter zombie apocalypse films cluttering up the horror section new releases on Netflix saddens me.  

But, while it is a negative modifier, it's not bad enough to make me instantly dislike all things zombie.  Instead, it makes any zombie story I read or watch have to step up its game to keep my attention. I find myself drawn towards any zombie story that mines the concept for comedy (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, AAAH! Zombies) or tries to do something different, such as mashing it up with other genres (Ex-Heroes) or telling the story from the zombie POV (Colin, AAAH! Zombies), or, crazily enough, developing the protagonists into something other than 2-dimensional stereotypes to get eaten. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 9 -- My 5 Favorite Stephen King Horror Movies

Yes, I had to qualify with "horror", as Stand By Me isn't all that Halloweeny.  And to further qualify:  these are my favorite King films, not necessarily the best.  I won't argue against the fact that Carrie is, technically speaking, superior to at least 3/5 of my list, but at the same time, if I have a choice between re-watching it and re-watching any of the below, the choice is easy.

5. Children of the Corn -- You just can't go wrong with creepy killer kids.  Yes, the ending is goofy as all get-out, but in a way, that only endears this to me more. 

4. Creepshow --Probably the first horror portmanteau I ever saw.  Highly stylized film that leans heavily on its comic book framing device, which is probably what made it resonate so much with me at a young age.

3. Silver Bullet -- I haven't watched this werewolf flick in many moons, but back in Elementary school I probably came close to wearing out the video store's copy. 

2. Misery -- The first R rated movie I ever saw by myself at the theater.  Kathy Bates' break-out role blew me away

1. The Shining -- I'm thankful I saw Kubrick's film long before I got around to reading what would turn out to be my favorite King novel; that way I didn't let the changes made color my impression of an excellent, creepy, beautifully filmed work. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 8 -- Top 5 Costumes I'd Like to Wear

As evidenced by yesterday's post, I'm not exactly a bastion of creativity when it comes to my Halloween costumes; cheap, quick, and easy is the rule of the day.  But, if I did have more money, time, and skills --, and, let's be honest, less poundage around the midsection -- here are some costume ideas I'd love to do

5. The Monarch or his henchmen -- really, I could say "virtually any Venture Bros. character," but there's something about the incongruity of The Monarch's appearance and his supposed menace that appeals to me.

3. Jack Staff/Union Jack/Captain Britain -- any of these UK themed heroes' outfits would be a treat to wear

3. The Question -- I've always been a fan of the faceless Question's design

2.  Nightcrawler -- my all time favorite X-man has to be near the top of my list

1. MODOK -- it would be imposbile to maneuver in, but it would be glorious nonetheless

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Halloween Countdown Day 7 -- My Top 5 Halloween Costumes

Growing up, I was never one to concern myself with originality in my Halloween costumes, generally relying on the cheap store-bought costumes with pictures of the character I was supposed to be emblazoned across the chest.  When I got older, relying on those costumes was no longer an option, so I was forced to branch out.  Here, then are my favorite former Halloween costumes.

5. Yar's Revenge -- Okay, so, while this is an example of the cheap costume I referenced above, it will always hold a special place in my heart because of the strange insectoid mask, which was a departure from the usual super-hero faced masks I gravitated towards

4. Cyclops -- A pre-packaged costume, which makes it only marginally better than the cheapo costumes of my youth.  Still, the fact that one of my child-hood heroes had actually gotten popular enough to warrant a pre-packaged costume was pretty cool to me.

3. Mullet Man -- epitome of the last-second shopping style of costume creation, this incredibly inexpensive mullet wig got some of the best reactions of any costume ever -- at least one co-worker still references it as one of the most disturbing costumes I've worn to the office party

My favorite part is that it makes it look like I'm wearing a shirt for some heavy metal band named Grendel, instead of a comic book shirt
2. Axe Cop -- It took visits to multiple costume shops to put this one together.  I spent most of my time trying to explain to everyone who I was supposed to be; hopefully I managed to expose a good number of people to the work of the Nicolle brothers.

1. Dr. Horrible -- Best part of dressing up as a character from a musical?  Perfect excuse to burst into song at a moment's notice.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 6 -- Impostor Among Us

ModifierImpostor Among Us
The Impostor Among Us sub-genre consists of stories where a group of people discover that someone in their group is not who or what they appear. Imposters could be anything from the very mundane like escaped convicts or serial killers, to the extraordinary, like an alien invader or supernatural doppelganger. Sometimes the impostor has assumed the identity of a real person, while at other times they're using a totally fabricated alias. The group is often confined to a single location (sometimes being merged with a Strangers in a Bottle story), but this isn't always the case.  The impetus in these stories is generally to discover which person in the group is the impostor before the impostor's hidden agenda is realized. In cases where the impostor is some sort of preternatural doppelganger, the agenda is often "infect/assimilate all humans," in which case the group has to find a way to stop the force before everyone is converted. When mashed up with Strangers in a Bottle plots, the Impostor is generally the driving force behind -- or at least complicit in -- whatever has trapped the characters together.

This is another sub-genre for which I have a soft spot. In fact, I've long wondered whether my love for this sub-genre is the reason why I love John Carpenter's The Thing so much, or if seeing and loving that film at an early age formed my affinity for this sub-genre -- my own personal "chicken or the egg."

Much like the Strangers in a Bottle sub-genre, one of the things that catches my interest most about Impostor Among Us stories is the plot propelling paranoia of its participants; however, that means that the same pitfall of overplaying the paranoia holds true as well. But while my favorite pure Strangers in a Bottle stories tend to revolve around man-made gatherings of strangers, my favorite Impostor Among Stories lean towards the extraterrestrial/supernatural side of things; watching the characters succumb one by one to the corrupting/consuming alien force as you wonder who has already been turned, and who could be next creates a much different form of tension than just seeing characters die.  If nothing else, it can give the actors the chance to show some range as the replaced or possessed people reveal their newly alien nature.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 5 -- Strangers in a Bottle

ModifierStrangers in a Bottle

Stories of this sub-genre involve a group of strangers who find themselves trapped together in a location and are usually forced to work together to gain their freedom.  I have been unable to find an official term for this type of material, so I've been forced to coin my own terminology; the "strangers" portion is self-explanatory, while the "bottle" portion is a reference to the TV production term "bottle episode," which, despite having a broader definition, generally refers to an episode of a series where the characters are confined to a single location.

Often, Strangers in a Bottle stories have the main characters trapped together by an outside force which often wants them together for a mysterious purpose, although sometimes the strangers are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The force could be a person (Nine Dead, Saw), an organization (Breathing Room, Persons Unknown), supernatural entity (Devil), or pure bad luck (Elevator); sometimes there is an unknown connection between the characters that is eventually revealed (Nine Dead, Saw II), but other times they turn out to have been selected randomly. There is also typically an element of danger present in the situation:  from the person or thing responsible for gathering/trapping the strangers; from one of the strangers themselves; or a combination of the two. The setting can be a variety of locations:  an enclosed space (Elevator, Devil); a single room (Breathing Room, Nine Dead, Saw); a house (House of 9, Saw II, Vile); or a larger complex (Cube, Identity, Persons Unknown).  The strangers might be given a concrete goal they have to accomplish in order to be set free (House of 9, Nine Dead, Saw, Vile), although sometimes that goal turns out to be a set-up ([films redacted for spoiler-free reading]). 

I most definitely have a soft spot for this subgenre. One of the things that draws me to these stories is that a plot built around a disparate range of personalities trying to interact with each other for the first time lends itself well to becoming a character study. The stories also often include some sort of puzzle element related either to the tasks needed for the stranger to win their freedom or determining their hidden connections, which appeals to me. Plus, the "nobody knows anyone else" element helps create some paranoia-driven tension to propel the plot forward.

One of the downsides of the sub-genre is that at time the paranoid aspect is played up a bit too much, resulting in characters who are so overly-suspicious and antagonistic towards one another that their behavior borders on cartoonish; it doesn't help that the overly-aggressive-and-overtly-violent stranger is never the real danger in the group.  If the writer and director don't reign that aspect in, one or more characters can become so shrill and obnoxious that it makes it difficult to enjoy. 

Another downside is that the sub-genre lends itself well to doubling as Torture Porn, with the social and psychological interplay between the strangers becoming secondary to the physical tortures they're being forced to endure; when the strangers become nothing more than targets for gruesome fates, my interest begins to wane.

That being said, if I come across a story that fits into this sub-genre, it moves immediately into my "must watch/read" queue.