Monthly Archives: October 2011

My 15 favorite horror/scary movies.

Happy Halloween! In honor of the holiday and taking inspiration from Jalissa Cruz’s tumblr I have decided to list my 15 favorite horror/scary movies.

According to wikipedia (obviously the best source around) a Horror film seeks to elicit a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s most primal fears. They often feature scenes that startle the viewer through the means of macabre and the supernatural, thus frequently overlapping with the fantasy and science fiction genres. Horrors also frequently overlap with the thriller genre. This definition is pretty broad, and I’m going to be kind of lenient with this list (side note at bottom of blog).

15. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2004):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This film is a love letter to the slasher genre. A man named Leslie Vernon heros are Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, Freddy Kruger, etc. He asks a documentary crew to film his rise as a serial killer. The film is smart, hilarious, and scary. Director, Scott Glosserman, uses the mockumentary aspect to reveal horror film tropes and cliches, but is completely capable of flipping the switch and becoming a scary slasher film.

14. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984):

Nightmare was one of the first horror films I ever saw, and it scared the crap out of me. I believe dying in your dreams is a very universal fear. As more sequels were made Freddy kind of became a joke, but this film perfectly mixes the humor and the horror. Wes Craven came up with creative/practical special effects. For example, to do the famous blood bed scene he literally turned everything upside down. So simple. Of course the film was remade, and it’s ridiculously bad.

13. Funny Games (1997):

Michael Haneke is a brilliant filmmaker. I love when great filmmakers tackle genre films. I also love films and television that approach subjects in “meta” ways. The killers are fully aware they are in a movie. They play around with us, give us what we think we want and then take it away from us. Haneke eviscerates the home invasion/horror genre. He makes you never want to an on screen murder again.

12. Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011):

Sean Durkin’s brilliant debut. I saw this film a couple months ago and got to take part in a Q and A with Durkin and Elisabeth Olsen (yes the younger sister of the Olsen twins). The film is coming out JUST in time for Halloween (depending on where you live). The film follows Martha as she tries to recover from her time with a cult. The film brilliantly blurs the line between reality, the past, and fantasy. We see everything through Martha’s eyes and we come as paranoid as her as the film slowly leads to it’s brilliant final shot.

11. Shaun of the Dead (2004): 

I wasn’t sure I should include Shaun of the Dead on this list. After all, it’s a comedy. But Shaun of the Dead is also a great zombie film with characters we care about (see it is possible! *cough* Walking Dead *cough*). Because we care about the characters we’re scared when shit gets reals. And like I said, the film is hilarious. I decided I love it too much not to include it on the list.

10. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1968): 

I think people forget how great the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is. Everyone assumes the film is wicked gory and isn’t scary. This is not true. The film actually doesn’t show most of the violence. Everyone remembers it being violent because you created that violence yourself. in my opinion, that reveals how powerful the film is. It gets into your mind.

9. [REC] (2007):

I’ve never seen Quarantine, and I never plan to, but I’ve heard it doesn’t compare. How could it? This film is terrifying. It flies at a break neck pace and never gives you a chance to breath.Is it a zombie film? Yes. No. Technically, I don’t think so (in the same way 28 Days Later isn’t technically a zombie film) but I don’t care. You need to see this tiny Spanish gem.

8. The Shining (1980):

The Shining is a classic, and Kubrick is a master. The film burrows into your mind and doesn’t leave. The mansion was designed to be physically impossible. There are doors that couldn’t possible lead to rooms, windows reveal the outside even though there should be a wall there, etc. Every aspect of the film is meticulously planned, and it pays off. Jack Nicholson’s descent into madness is terrifying.

7. Trick ‘r Treat  (2007?):

This film was wasting away on the studio shelves for year. I don’t understand why. The obvious thing to do with it is show it every Halloween.It should be required viewing on Halloween. It tells a few different stories that take place on Halloween. Some of them scary. I tried to get my girlfriend to watch it last Halloween and she couldn’t last 5 minutes (she is a wimpy wimp though). Some of the stories are pretty funny. But all comes together in the perfect Halloween film.

6. Attack the Block (2011):

You need to see this film. Attack the Block came out in the US this summer and it’s probably my favorite film of the year (I need to see it and Take Shelter again). Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead) produced the film by first time director Joe Cornish and it’s great. It’s the funniest film of the year, it’s scary as hell, the alien design is brilliant (old school, not overdone), and it’s socially aware. If you paid any attention to the London riots this year the main characters may look familiar, but you’ll see them in a way corporate media will never show, as human beings. It’s out on DVD. RENT IT FOR HALLOWEEN! WATCH IT IMMEDIATELY!

5. Se7en (1997):

Without Se7en, there is no Saw. People went to Saw to see people die in insane ways. Se7en makes you feel dirty about the way people die, and all it needs is a simple picture. That picture is far more powerful than all the Saw films put together. That interrogation scene is incredibly disturbing. And the end. Oh my god the end. I love Se7en. Also, that shot above, one of my favorite shots of all time.

4. Rosemary’s Baby (1968):

Rosemary’s Baby is a masterpiece. Polanski perfectly uses the art of film to reveal Rosemary’s paranoia. We spend the entire film trying to figure out what’s going on. It all leads to ending that shouldn’t work. Out of context the end is kind of cheesy and over the top, but in context is brilliant and absolutely terrifying. I had a hard time placing this and the 3rd film because they are similar, and without this film my 3rd film wouldn’t exist, but I love this next film so much.

3. Black Swan (2010):

Anyone who knows me well knows I love Darren Aronofsky. When I saw Requiem for a Dream in high school I realized films could be more than intellectually stimulating. They can be emotionally devastating, and that’s exactly what Black Swan is. When the lights went black on Black Swan twice in a 24 hour period my mind was mush. My first reaction was, “What the fuck did I just watch?” The film had grabbed my brain and thrown it against a wall. It’s my favorite psychological thriller of all time (maybe I’m just Aronofsky biased). The first 45 minutes are methodically paced, and the amazing sensory overload that is the dance club scene propels the film into insanity. Without those slow 45 minutes the final scene would not have it’s powerful, and oh my god, that ending. It’s perfect.

2. Halloween (1978):

When I was a kid I saw Halloween and it scared the crap out of me. Everyone once in a while it would pop up on TV and I’d watch the end and it would still scare me. Last year I saw the whole film for the first time in years in my Fiction Film Theory class. And you know what? Halloween is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s more than that. It’s a brilliant film. The opening is a 5 minutes POV shot done in a single take. We’re put in the mind of a serial killer and it feels like your heart is being clenched by Michael himself. It’s intelligent filmmaking being used to scare us and it’s perfect.

1. Let the Right One In (2008):

Here’s the only vampire film on the list. In my opinion, it’s best vampire film ever made. Finally, a film shows what it’d actually be like to be a vampire. A vampire would not live a glitz and glam lifestyle. Being a vampire is an incredibly selfish thing. You’d rather kill tons of people than die yourself. At least Eli has the decency to make sure her victims don’t have to live the life she does. Like Halloween, Let the Right One In is so much more than it’s genre. It is one of my all time favorite stories about love (yes that is the way I interpret Eli and Oskar’s relationship), a devastating story about school bullying, a story a bout a kid who could potentially become a killer, a husband who loses his wife, and an amazing coming of age story. The film slowly builds Eli and Oskar’s relationship until one of my favorite scenes of all time, an iconic scene for the ages.

Side note: The order of this list represents how I feel about these films as “scary movies.”  It doesn’t represent how I feel about them as films (the order would be different).









It’s Sunday at 10 pm. Please watch Homeland.

*UPDATE* I’m an idiot. The Walking Dead is on at 9 pm. Wow. Ignore the watch Homeland instead of Walking Dead stuff. I believe Homeland is better but you can easily watch The Walking Dead THEN Homeland. Maybe I should write a blog about watching Dexter vs The Walking Dead (which is worse)? 

When I originally saw the previews for Homeland on TV I didn’t think twice. I wasn’t interested in the show. I’m typically very skeptical when new shows start. So many of them are terrible it’s hard to trying and guess which new one to start every year, but one comparison caught my eye. Homeland was compared to the Bourne films. I decided to watch the first episode and it was a great decision.

I think Homeland is the best new show on television this fall. If it wasn’t for Community and Parks and Recreation it’d my favorite show currently airing new episodes. I’ve given up on Dexter (for now, maybe a blog post coming in the future), and I have my problems with The Walking Dead (as you can read here). The problem is most people are probably spending 10 to 11 pm on Sunday nights watching The Walking Dead. I believe you should be watching Homeland, and here’s why (not in order of importance).

  1. The Bourne comparison is true. Homeland is a tense, tight thriller. There isn’t the pure adrenaline filled physicality that Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon mastered, but there is the intellectually engaging behind the scenes look at the power the government has.
  2. Real, flawed characters. Also, like the Bourne films (and unlike The Walking Dead) Homeland is filled with emotionally complex people. No one is black and white. The show is filled with shades of gray. The show even takes the same kind of love triangle as The Walking Dead and makes it much much better. The wife is this triangle is a real person, not a blank slate to direct anger at. Even the “terrorist” is a real person.
  3. We don’t know if Nicolas Brody is really a terrorist. The trailer implies he is and I can see why the network felt like that was a necessary way to promote the show, but the show never says yes or no. In fact, the show really makes us identify with his situation.
  4. Homeland presents PTSD in a very interesting way. Brody comes home and his life isn’t perfect. He has terrible flashbacks and has trouble slipping back into everyday American life. He questions the entire purpose of the war. He has trouble with intimacy.
  5. A strong female lead. One of the two main characters is a strong woman. Like the other characters Carrie has her flaws, but we understand and sympathize with her perspectives. Through her eyes we see both sides of debate about privacy. In her mind “privacy” doesn’t exist when it comes to the protection of the U.S. But as she watches Brody we see glimpses and moments that reveal she feels bad about what she’s doing. When something terrible happens we feel it because she feels it.
  6. Acting. The acting in the show is very great.
Homeland is very good show. I believe it’s currently much better than The Walking Dead, and for that reason you should support it by watching it on Sundays instead of The Walking Dead. If you haven’t watch it yet you’re only a few episodes behind. The Walking Dead already has plenty of people watching it. We need to show networks we will watch a good show (like Homeland) while it’s on the air. Besides, you can still DVR The Walking Dead and watch it at 11. That’s what I’m doing.

My Thoughts on The Walking Dead

About 2 years ago I could not wait for The Walking Dead. My anticipation was through the roof. I truly believed the show would be great. Why did I believe that?

    1. Frank Darabont: The show was going to be run by a great filmmaker. I love the majority of Darabont’s films. Shawshank Redemption is universally praised and The Green Mile kills me every time. If anyone could play in the over used zombie genre and come out with something great I thought it’d be him. What made Shawshank and The Green Mile so great were the characters. I cared so much about for them and assumed this was something Darabont would bring to The Walking Dead. I never believed zombie attacks would keep me watching every week. I had to care if the characters survived. I also loved the idea of getting something truly cinematic on television. The show was going to be shot on Super 16mm, by an actual filmmaker. Most shows on TV feel like television. The lighting is flat. The compositions are boring or rushed. The direction can be very questionable. But finally we’d have another rare cinematic show (to go with Breaking Bad).
    2. AMC: Two years ago I believed AMC could do no wrong. They had taken chances on Breaking Bad and Mad Men, two of the best shows on television. I believed their willingness to allow creativity in television wouldn’t hold Darabont back. He’d get to do whatever he wanted (which I believed would be a good thing). Little did I know, AMC is actually kind of lucky and don’t know how to handle the amazing shows they stumbled onto.
    3. Zombies getting taken seriously: I’m a genre nerd, and I love zombies. I was frustrated by the way zombies had become such a huge part of our culture. Not because I don’t want things to become popular. If something is good I want as many people as possible to see it. I was frustrated because the social critique behind zombies had been lost. Now they were just scary monsters. Zombie movies weren’t that good anymore. Of course Shaun of the Dead is a huge exception, but it’s a comedy (an actual good zombie movie). I wanted zombies to be taken seriously. I wanted them to have their own Let the Right One In. Like I said before I believed Darabont would do this.
    4. The Make Up: When pictures started coming out the zombies looked incredible.
    5. The Hype: Oh my god. The internet was telling us this show will be great, and it would not stop. Every movie site I read was frequently talking about The Walking Dead. They thought it was going to be great and they wanted as many people as possible to watch it.
So, what happened? I enjoyed the pilot. I thought it was a strong premiere. It felt like zombies were going to be taken seriously. There was a serious character moment I hadn’t seen tackled that often (Killing a family member) and it was done very well. I felt something.

But then the other characters were introduced. With it came ridiculous stereotypes, names like T-dog, insanely on the nose/cringe worthy depictions of racism. The characters felt like cartoons, and the show seemed sexist and not in a critiquing sexism kind of way but I don’t like women or just have no idea how to write a woman so I fall back on a bitch stereotype kind of way (to be honest I should have seen this coming. I loved The Mist, but looking back on it the characters were stereotypical and very preachy/frustrating. I almost think Darabont lost hope in the world and with it his characters). I was quickly brought out of the reality of the story. I actually didn’t get past the third episode of the first season. I simply lost interest.

But a lot of other people kept watching. The show got great ratings. Fellow film students talked about it constantly, but I never felt the urge to start watching it again. When Darabont got fired I really didn’t care. I realized the reputation I believed AMC deserved should be in question (read more about AMC here). I didn’t think I’d ever watch the show, but something happened.

AMC did a great job marketing the show. The new trailers made the second season look good. Sites that had seen the new episodes seemed happy. They believed the show had turned around. The first six episodes were probably a fluke. It’s hard to create a consistent season of television when you only had 6 episodes to do it. I was brought back in. I had to watch the first season in time to start the second. As I started watching I thought, “Maybe this is getting better.” The massive zombie attack on the camp grounds was pretty thrilling/intense. I was beginning to be turned around. I really didn’t like the season finale, but I was willing to jumo into the second season. I was actually pretty excited.

The beginning of that 90 minute episode made me think watching the show was worth it. The zombie horde passing the group as they hid under cars was really intense and pretty well done, but then something happened. The rest of the episode only existed because characters made dumb decision after dumb decision. I usually don’t get into question character decisions in this way but they came so often I couldn’t help it. Yes, lets get out from under the car even though a zombie passed seconds earlier. Yes, lets dissapear from the place someone saved my live is telling me to stay so the entire group can’t fine me for 3 days. Yes, let’s have a kid steal a bunch of weapons from a dead guy who could be a zombie because it’s “suspenseful.”

This specific example is manipulating the audience at it’s finest. It’s artificial tension. Place a kid in a dangerous situation and we’re going to get scared because we care about kids, but when the situation comes from such stupidity I no longer care. And why the hell is that kid walking around those cars all by himself anyways. And why the hell do you let a kid walk up to a wild deer. That deer could have killed that kid himself. Instead, hey lets shoot him and create more suspense. My frustration with the episode made me realize the problems I have with The Walking Dead.

  1. The Characters: I don’t like any of them. I could honestly care less. Eventually someone is going to die it’s not going to have any weight because I’ll probably be happy I don’t have to deal with them anymore. And like I said, they are so stupid. How am I supposed to believe any of them made it this far.

  2. Lori Grimes
    : Who likes this characters? She’s insufferable. How could two guys fall in love with her? But her character reveals a lot about what I don’t like about the show beyond her character. She reveals the writers on this show don’t understand women or possibly don’t like them. To them it’s more important hide infidelity from Rick then create a real woman. In the beginning, Rick’s whole purpose was to find her and his son, but guess what. She sleeps with another guy immediately after you supposedly died! She’s so bad! In my opinion, this isn’t done to reveal anything about her character. We don’t get any insight into what she was feeling. We simply imprint our own misogynistic feelings on to her. If she had died I think a vast majority of the audience would have been ok with Rick looking for someone else. The women on this show constantly rely on the men to do everything for them. You can argue, “but it’s a critique!” and I can see where you’re coming from, but it’s poorly done and when you don’t have real women in these roles your critique is worthless. “But Andrea kills zombies! She’s a strong woman!” But without a man saving her she’s a crazy woman who wanted to die.
  3. CG Blood: I hate CG blood. Do it practically please. It looks so much better. It makes these scenes ridiculous.
  4. Zombie Attacks: Wait, how can I dislike zombie attacks? I’ve seen tons and tons of zombie attacks in my time. I want interaction between characters. The zombie attacks in this show seem to be there because it’s a “zombie show.” The audience wants it. Don’t give me zombie attacks until they mean something. Which leads to…
The crazy part. I actually don’t have that many problems with the show. I’m still going to watch it because I think these things can be turned around. If The Walking Dead begins having real, intelligent characters I honestly believe it can be great. But it all starts with the characters. Why is Breaking Bad so good? Because we care. All those intense situations and holy shit moments would be worthless if the characters weren’t good, but they’re great so those situations and moments become brilliant. The Walking Dead can’t have brilliant moments until I care. I hope this happens.

My Thoughts on Breaking Bad

I want to begin by saying the final two episodes of the season were GREAT television. Better than anything this side of the Wire. By Breaking Bad standards they were very good. My initial reaction was, “Holy shit!” Walter killed Gus and poisoned a child to convince Jessie to join his side again. This leaves a lot of potential stories for the last season, BUT I truly believe those final two episodes had so much more potential, or possibly shouldn’t have existed. I believe this because the end “Crawl Space” is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen on television.

Those final 10 minutes were one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. Breaking Bad spent the entire 4th season isolating Walter until he had nothing left. The slow burn made that moment so powerful. Walt was by himself. Hank was going to be attacked. Everyone and anyone could die, and then in half an episode Walt and Jessie were back together. Hank was in no danger at all. We KNEW Walt was going to kill Gus. Even as it happened all I could think was, “this is happening WAY too fast.”  I believe Walt and Jessie should have never teamed up. There should have been no going back after that emotionally devastating brawl. I believe something happening to Hank or a member of Walt’s family would have been infinitely more interesting than Gus getting half his head blown off.

I believe “Crawl Space” should have been the season finale, and I feel kind of cheated because I feel like those last two episodes kind of undermined a lot of what happened in all of season 4 and restarts the world going into the final season. Obviously that’s not completely true. A lot of actions from this season with have consequences, but Breaking Bad has made me realize something. Dexter sucks. I hate to say it but I’ve realized I don’t like Dexter anymore. Every season they just start his life over. Rita’s death has no affect on him anymore. Besides that great fourth season, every season ends with a nicely tied bow, and that’s kind of how this season of Breaking Bad ended (but way better than those Dexter finales).

In my opinion Breaking Bad should followed that arc instead creating a situation where an all new arc is created. Now we know the season will be Walt in power, Hank getting closer to Walt, Jesse finding out about Jane and/or Brock. The season could have been all this and the fear of Walt, Hank, his family, Jesse, Gus, anyone dying. To me that’s more interesting. That said, I’m a 22 year old film school graduate who has never made anything longer than 16 minutes and could never have created the 4 seasons of absolutely brilliance that is Breaking Bad.

Note: I LOVED the final two episodes as hour long mediums of television. To me the season builds to crawl space with two extra episodes, but I understand they wanted to get rid of Gus so Walter could be the absolute bad guy. They’ve always said he’d be scarface. Also, I may be biased. I love when films and songs end with the climax. I don’t always like the resolution sections of the final act. I’d rather imagine what happens next, not be told. This is why I love films by Darren Aronofsky.