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Three Non-Horror Movies For Horror Fans:: By Kevin M

August 5th, 2020 · 1 Comment

The Double (2013)

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “in the real dark night of the soul it is always 3 o’clock in the morning, day after day.” Likewise, THE DOUBLE takes place in a world that’s one long graveyard shift. You never see daylight, it’s always dark and gloomy. This adds to the hero’s heightened sense of loneliness (which is ironic because he meets his doppelgänger.) THE DOUBLE is a comic nightmare and it’s very funny, but there’s also some psychological horror about identity. Jesse Eisenberg’s dual performances are outstanding. Director Richard Ayoade’s comic timing brings life to this story, based on a novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Part of the comedy comes from the bizarre situation that no one else sees the physical similarities between these two look-alikes. So, there’s a question of whether or not the hero is cracking up and experiencing a profound delusion. Horror fans will likely connect with the bleak material and the Kafka-esque anxiety running throughout the film. Bonus: you might find similarities to BRAZIL and TAXI DRIVER. 

Rhinoceros (1974)

Making a film version of Eugene Ionesco’s theater-of-the-absurd play RHINOCEROS is a losing proposition. Stage productions benefit from suspension-of-disbelief, audiences can meet the actors half-way, using their imaginations to see the human characters transform into rhinos before their eyes. It doesn’t translate to film. For better or worse, the 1974 movie makes no attempt to use any special effects to show that transmogrification. Theater people will point out that this film is not funny. Fair enough. But genre fans might enjoy it as a horror movie. First off, you’ve got Cronenbergian body horror, with people morphing into pachyderms. Then there’s an INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS vibe (complete with political subtext) of a hero seeing his friends and neighbors assimilating into a non-human form. Lastly, there’s the I AM LEGEND angle, with Gene Wilder as the last man on earth. During these pandemic times, it’s fascinating to watch the terror of RHINOCEROS, where the planet’s dominant species is bringing about its own destruction. Bonus: lovers of ‘70s cult movies will enjoy seeing a peak Karen Black performance. And Gene Wilder might surprise you by playing a character that’s different from the “gentle madman” persona that he perfected elsewhere in his career.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

The trailer is hitting all the buttons to tell you it’s an “indie”, it’s “art house”, it’s “very Sundance.” All true. But you can watch MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE as a scrappy horror movie. It reminds me of early Wes Craven films. Like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, it’s thematically comparing two very different families. Elizabeth Olsen plays the title character, a traumatized young woman who leaves a cult and tries to reunite with her estranged sister. Olsen is fantastic, never going too big or melodramatic while going through a breakdown. Martha is like a “final girl” detoxing from a nightmare, unable to distinguish between what’s real and what’s vividly imagined. Writer-director Sean Durkin uses the camera to play tricks on the viewer, toying with memory and reality. Intentional ambiguities ratchet up the tension and create a hypnotic undertow of dread. All this, plus Sarah Paulson plays Martha’s brittle, guilty sister. And there’s my favorite John Hawkes performance as a believable cult leader who sings a haunting folk song. Bonus: water-as-memory imagery, for fans of SHOCK WAVES, DON’T LOOK NOW and STEPHEN KING’s IT (1990).

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Three Non-Horror Movies For Horror Fans:: By Robstercraws

July 20th, 2020 · 5 Comments

Scalpel (1977)

Directed by John Grissmer (“Blood Rage”), this movie may not be horror, but there are enough twisted and horrible things going on here to please most horror fans.  A psychotic plastic surgeon helps a go-go dancer who had her face bashed in by giving her a brand new face….the face of his young adult daughter!  See…he allowed his wife to drown and killed his daughter’s boyfriend, which was enough to send the daughter packing.  In her absence, she inherited a hefty sum of money, so the surgeon does what any father would do and gives the dancer his daughter’s face so SHE would inherit the money.  They then have an icky sexual relationship.  Everything seems fine until…..his real daughter shows up again.  Then things really get twisted!  Horror elements include face-bashing, pseudo-incest, murder, and a general all-around sleaziness that makes one wonder how on earth it got away with a PG rating.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

This disturbing film follows a psychopathic boy from birth to young adulthood and the horrible event that ensues once he reaches high school.  Tilda Swinton, as Kevin’s mother, is outstanding in this movie and is totally believable as a mother who is at times frustrated, infuriated, confused by, and afraid of her son. As you watch Kevin grow up, you just know something terrible is going to happen eventually.  It’s like waiting for a train wreck to happen. As a parent, this film made me aware of a horror I’d never even considered: the horror of not knowing who your child is and being afraid of the answer.

The Devils (1971)

This ranks as one of my top 5 favorite movies, horror or otherwise. In 17th century France (in the midst of the plague) Father Grandier (Oliver Reed) is the only person preventing Cardinal Richeliu from taking over the city of Loudun in an effort to control all of the country.  The power-hungry Cardinal and his witch-hunters accuse Grandier of being a demon and of having control of the local nunnery, run by an insane hunchbacked nun who lusts after Grandier.  An exorcist is brought in to rid the “possessed” nuns of their demons and to prove Grandier guilty.  The corrupt court humiliates, tortures, and ultimately kills Grandier by burning him at the stake…all while his fellow townspeople watch.  Grandier is dead, the town is taken over.

Enough scenes of horror are in this movie to make it qualify as “horror” in my eyes. You’ve got several scenes of torture, a crazy, hunchbacked nun, plague victims thrown in pits, Oliver Reed being burned at the stake, forced vomiting, and the movie’s most controversial scene:  “possessed” naked nuns going berserk in a church, taking down a statue of Jesus, and masturbating, fondling, and going batshit crazy all over it. It must be seen to be believed! Unfortunately, an uncensored version of The Devils has never been officially released in the United States because of its controversial nature. Everything depicted in the film, however, is true and actually happened. The fact that Warner Bros. refuses to release a masterpiece of a film about church corruption BECAUSE of Catholic influence is the real horror!

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Three Non-Horror Movies For Horror Fans:: By bdwilcox

July 16th, 2020 · 3 Comments

OK, I’m going to totally cheat here because I’m about to give my three non-horror movies for horror fans as well as three runners-up. I will divide them into the categories of science fiction, comedy and fantasy.

Science Fiction: Because horror so closely rides a parallel rail next to science fiction, I’ll start with that category. My pick for a non-horror sci-fi movie for horror fans is The Hidden (1987) (If you liked The Faculty (1998), you’ll love The Hidden). The runner-up would be Ex Machina (2014). Both underappreciated gems in the Sci-Fi genre.

Comedy: I find the best non-horror comedies for horror fans aren’t parodies but surreal comedies that make you feel like you’re in a fever dream. My pick for a non-horror comedy movie for horror fans is UHF (1989) which is one of the three mothers of surreal comedy to me (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Big Top Pee-Wee (1988) and UHF). Runner up would be One Crazy Summer (1986) whose cartoon interludes are worth the price of admission (And is one of the three mothers of John Cusack comedies: Better off Dead (1985), One Crazy Summer and Say Anything (1989)).

Fantasy: Fantasy movies are the lighter side of horror (plays Tales from the Darkside theme…”but not as brightly lit”…). My pick for a non-horror fantasy movie for horror fans is Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). The runner-up would be Legend (1985). Both are fantasy movies whose imagery evokes feelings of horror but are tightly woven into a fantasy setting. (I was going to put in the Dark Crystal (1982) but my inner child is still too traumatized to mention it.)

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Three Non-Horror Movies For Horror Fans:: By Eve Tushnet

July 2nd, 2020 · 2 Comments

1: THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT (2014)

This film looks like it’s gonna be a teen horror, maybe about witches??, and it is indeed about a secret club of high-school girls who meet in the woods to perform mysterious rituals. But this update of “The Crucible” uses wiggy costumes and snappy dialogue, not spells and special effects, to represent the apocalyptic emotions of teenagers. A girl dresses like a “David Bowie bird”; the sun glows, giant against the treeline, that golden edge-of-adulthood sun you’ll never see again. The girls come together to share secrets and cope with the painful family situations they won’t reveal to anyone else. Their club is more “personal with a dash of politics” than personal-political, but even so, this movie is the closest thing I’ve found to what it was like to be in Riot Grrrl. I have some criticisms: The movie repeatedly suggests that some of the girls will be gay, or will reveal experiences of sexual assault, but if memory serves those things don’t happen; that felt like a bait-and-switch or a lost opportunity. But mostly this is a beautiful film about teen girls in the age of Facebook.

It’s honest and touching and melodramatic. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry!

Plus it includes the graffiti, EMILY PARRIS IS A BLOG WHORE. Irresistible, no?

Recommended if you like: The Craft, Ginger Snaps, #horror (which, in spite of its ridiculous name, is a very fun movie).

2: BEYOND THE HILLS (2012)

This movie starts when a young woman arrives at a Romanian women’s monastery where her former best friend is a nun. The two girls grew up together in one of the notorious orphanages of Communist Romania; they protected each other, and in time became lovers, but now Voichita has found a refuge in the monastery and hopes that Alina will make her home there as well. No dice–Alina is an atheist and she’s come to rescue her ex-lover from the clutches of the church.

So begins a genuinely harrowing film based on true events. Seriously, this is a hard movie to watch, as hard as MARTYRS in its own way. The nuns begin to fear the influence of Satan, both on Alina and on the monastery as a whole. Evil portents seem to appear in the natural world, and hysteria begins to take hold. The monastery’s priest dismisses the idea of demonic activity for a while, but eventually the nuns persuade him, too, to see the cloven hoofprints… and then the movie’s real tragedy begins, as the nuns and priest show their willingness to destroy Alina in order to save her from the Devil.

The movie begins at a slow, meditative pace, with long quiet shots showing the hard manual labor of the monastery, then picks up speed; the climax is agonizingly tense.

Recommended if you like: The VVitch, The Exorcist, The Rapture.

3: THE FITS

Another, very different take on “The Crucible.” Toni is an eleven-year-old tomboy, a boxer in training, who becomes enraptured with the girls of the high-school dance team… just as those girls begin to suffer from an inexplicable fainting epidemic. Is it an environmental problem, something in the school’s water? Is it mass hysteria? Is it something beyond the realm of science?

Royal Hightower is amazing as Toni, taciturn and full of longing. THE FITS is gorgeous, and I love how it shows the characters’ physicality: the glitter dusting Toni’s fingertips, the blood on a boxer’s teeth, the tenderness of a newly-pierced earlobe. And its final sequence is genuinely sublime, as the film enters the realm of pure symbolism and dream. This is one of my favorite movies of all time and one of the best blends of realism and fantasy I know.

Recommended if you like: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Paperhouse, The Company of Wolves (or any of Angela Carter‘s writing).

Enjoy! (Or I guess, in the case of BEYOND THE HILLS, Endure!) I’ve written a few books but the most recent is my novel “Punishment: A Love Story,” which you can find HERE.

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Three Non-Horror Movies For Horror Fans:: By Ghastly1

June 30th, 2020 · 3 Comments

Titus (1999), is a film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Grand Guignolesque Titus Andronicus. Often called “the least of” Shakespeare’s plays, due to certain people’s distaste for the theatrical presentation of the violence of life and what it says about the nature of us anthropoids. Rape, revenge, mutilation, murder, cannibalism, despair as well as poetry abound in the Bard of Avon’s relentlessly brilliant and most unappreciated work. 
The plot centers around the eponymous Titus, a victorious Roman general recently returned from warring against the Goths -played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins, who given the notoriety of a certain character with a predilection for cannibalism he previously played was the perfect casting choice for the role- and he and his family’s tragic downfall at the hands of Tamora, a Gothic queen and Aaron, a Moor whom he captures as war spoils and the bloody vengeance he wreaks upon them in turn.

The film, while certainly violent, does not cross the line into exploitative splatter movie territory, as it easily could, by any means; but is instead tastefully restrained in a way which I feel heightens the impact of the violence and makes it all the more wrenching- and in certain scenes and senses, satisfying- in the cinematograph of your mind. Despite the much commented upon unpleasant goings on, the film is not entirely dour; there are moments of levity interspersed with tragedy as in the scene where Titus is reunited with his previously severed hand. There is also a sense of nervous suspenseful comedy- and dare I say possibly one of the most arresting pieces of acting in history on the part of Anthony Hopkins– when Titus, feigning madness is visited by the “spirits” of Rape, Revenge and Murder.

The one downside to the film is the use of deliberate anachronism of costumes and iconography from various periods in history to signal the applicability of the play’s perennial themes to all ages; I do not care much for this because Shakespeare does not need to be “interpreted for modern audiences” as the story is far strong enough to stand on its own even after the passage of centuries and its themes to become manifest on their own. Much like the earlier Romeo + Juliet (1996) we are given characters with hyper modern and rather annoying 90’s edginess in the form of Tamora’s sons, Demetrius (Matthew Rhys) and Chiron (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and with outright bizarre looks in the form of Alan Cumming‘s Saturninus. I would have preferred a straight forward period piece because these sorts of choices distract from the core focus of the story.

Despite my critical nitpicking Titus is a great film which does credit to its source material and does not shy away from the unpleasant realities of life we as horror fans explore in our love for the genre and goes to show that what Harold Bloom said about Shakespeare inventing what we think of as the human is true; in him inhabited all the divergent personalities of his plays from the vile Aaron to the jocular Falstaff and princely Hamlet, yet by virtue of containing them, was yet more than them still. In fact, it may not be too much to say that Titus anticipates and acts as a progenitor to the good doctor himself. Truly genius.

Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home(1987) is an obscure comedy film starring Jon Cryer, which hits the spot if you are a fan of 80’s teen movies while simultaneously satisfying the horror fan due to its main character being a huge horror fan himself. The story is nothing out of the ordinary; Morgan Stewart is a boy who meets a girl and they fall in love. This rather cliched scenario is spiced up by the fact the boy is an outsider- but not of the dark and brooding, weirdo variety; instead he is happy and relatively well adjusted- but he is butting heads with his straight laced parents in a search for personal independence- pretty standard stuff. What also sets the film apart and where the film becomes of interest to horror fans is that it is fun picking out all of the horror movie posters that Morgan has on his walls, seeing all the masks and things he collects, the many references to horror movies sprinkled throughout as well as what I think is the only celluloid representation of romance blossoming while on line waiting to get a copy of The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh signed by George Romero- pretty unique. If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out.

Summer School (1987) is another 80’s comedy film which is better known than the aforementioned Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home, and is just as much enjoyable, thanks especially to two characters in particular; the mighty Chainsaw and Dave. Set around the unfortunate inhabitants of a summer school class, this shows that one can have fun even in less than ideal circumstances. Horror fans will definitely relate with Chainsaw and Dave because they are two horror freaks obsessed with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and who even set up a screening of it in class. They also have a talent for practical make up effects which is put on full display in one memorable scene in which they stage the massacre of their entire class. This movie is light and fun and just the right aperitif for a night of horror films. 

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