Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)
Like a lot of classic Hollywood films, Frankenstein is based on a story, a dense monster tale by Mary Shelley about the creation of an outcast embodying nearly every narrative conflict known to literature (man vs man, man vs nature, man vs self etc.). Laying the groundwork for the indelible outsider anti-hero this film holds up today as we watch mob mentality, the fear of the unknown, the innovation & nervousness of science and countless other layers of monsters & man electrified into what we fear most: ourselves. An archetypal film and a narrative classic a must see for all!
Tim Burton (1971-present)
So…pretty much every Tim Burton film is a take on Frankenstein? Is this true? Kind of yes. Tim Burton has made a career on the tragic beauty in the shunned and misunderstood outcast monster figure. Yet, there is usually a comic sweetness on the edge of Tim Burton that is just the right amount to hold back his films from being strictly monstrous. The pureness in Burton's characters and his distinct style is what has made him a Hollywood gem and his own twisted homages to the genre (Ed Wood! Frankenweenie! Sleepy Hollow! etc.) have added him to the very canon that has inspired his shawdowy filmography.
The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
I saw this a few nights ago on the big screen as my friends- one of which who had never seen this film (gasp!)- sat hunched, cursing, turned away from the screen in absolute outrageous fear... at one point, so disturbed, one of them started humming "Don't get into my mind, don't get into my mind!" at the huge, terrible and absolutely stunning images before her! We all know Kubrick is a filmmaking master but seeing this film in it's full on theater glory- helicopter shots, these zero gravity feeling/free floating cameras lurking over the shoulders of the guests and ghosts of The Overlook, the expertly designed sound, Penderecki & Bartok pushing the tension along, with Stephen King at the chilly, disturbing story's core- incredible! I don't think there is a better piece of art out there and everybody should try to experience this film in a real movie theater!
Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, 2012)
When I was at Sundance this past year I let a person cut in front of me in an early morning wait list line for Room 237 so they could stand next to their friends. That guy got in. I did not. Yes, I still hold this against my niceness as I remember how absolutely freezing it was in the concrete, sub level, outdoor hall at 8am in that Park City Utah wait line…and how badly I want to see this film! A documentary composed of interviews regarding the theories- and from what I hear the insane-neurotic-conspiracy-like theories (The Shining as Kubrick's admittance to personally faking the moon landing footage?) from the minds of intensely serious film buffs/scholars, Room 237 is garnering some weird attention. First it gained momentum by the concern over distribution being that most of the film borrowed footage from the Kubrick's classic (an issue which must have been resolved since I am told distribution will be happening through IFC in the Spring, or is that a rumor?) and then, more recently, this film has begun causing some tension in the film critic's community. Apparently some critics worry that Room 237 trivializes the work of film criticism, favoring a mode of looking at film as a stagnant object to be studied as opposed to the moving instigator it can, and should, be. The film favors discussion over action and art as a puzzle as opposed to an experience and are definitely things that are worrisome in terms of all creative fields...Yet, to me at least, there is something to be said for seeing the multifaceted views of others that I bet Room 237 does. By hearing the ways others have "solved the puzzle" we can learn about the people themselves, and in turn ourselves, when we approach the same puzzle. Conspiracy theories, and theories in general, exist for us to question, engage and try to learn the ways of the world- a thing there are millions of versions of- and sometimes simply hearing a point of view not our own can help complete a much, much bigger picture outside of the realm of mere film criticism...!
Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)
Aronofsky man. I remember seeing Pi late at night as a teen, renting it from the mainstream video store's ghetto of "staff picks," waiting for my parents to sleep since this R rated film might not be to their liking and then, as the film hit my bleary young adult eyes, thinking, "A movie can be this?" An amazing director who- even when his plots aren't the most compelling- can create a tension unlike any other through nerve wracking sound design, quick cuts, and a creepiness who, in the case of Black Swan, also has the modern sex appeal of so many lead horror actresses flailing across the screen before (helpless, hot female victim is not a thing I condone but, it is a trope that continues through the ages of cinema and was kind of comforting to see a new take on). I really do wish Aronofsky would stick to the horrific though since he tends towards atmospheres that are emotionally effecting already and that, when mixed with a some bloody terror & brain damage, produce masterful eerie wonders akin to Hitchcock! The slowly unhinging ballerina of Black Swan makes for a psychological thriller whose beautiful grotesqueness makes you wonder if our desires are worth the terror they can induce, quite possibly the question at the heart of every director working in the genre!
Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
Why the hell are they remaking Suspiria? No need! NO NEED! For shame! The classic coven/dance conservatory horror film by the master of Italian horror Dario Argento is such a strangely interesting piece of work that you must see the original before being tainted by whatever the new version has in store... Suspiria is like a spooky dream filled with confusion and wickedness bathed in a red light that looks like a washy neon portrait of fear as a dancer unveils the dark secrets hidden in the halls of her new home. See this movie and join me in the confusion of the need to remake it!
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Various, 1955-1962)
Dear lord I can't believe my dad let me watch the reruns of this show when I was a small child! I am going to just recap one episode that will probably never, ever leave my brain and has created one of the few downright irrational fear I have of being buried alive: A woman obsessed with death wants to experience what it is like to be buried. She persuades a gravedigger to bury her for a short time along with a recent corpse (so as not to garner suspicion) and then dig her up. After going through with the plan she begins to get antsy as a little too much time passes in her dark, airless, six foot underground situation. She lights a match to reveal that the gravedigger is the corspse she will be sharing eternity with. Seriously. Chilling. Like every other short film Hitchcock presented in this series this story is a primer on fright and psychologically effecting narrative, rounding out with an irony and setting that is far too close to reality to be forgotten and dismissed as purely a fantastical idea- watch them if you dare!
V/H/S (Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence, Ti West, 2012)
Another film I narrowly missed at Sundance...V/H/S comes complete with the "someone passed out at the premier" narrative that is all to important to the mythic creation of a cult classic! A loose plot about a group of people on a mission to retrive a specific videotape from a location filled with videotapes, the film is actually composed of a series of short films by varying contemporary horror directors- each supposedly more gross, creepy or awful than the one before! This framework of filmmaking, a series of shorts under a specific umbrella plot, can sometimes be a little offputting or patchwork but I think that the horror film genre is perfect for it! Being fictionally shocked and awed in a completely different way within minutes is like a quick punch to the gut that keeps you on edge, fearful of what could possibly be the next thing lurking behind the next filmic corner, unable to think for too long about how it is just a film before the next onslaught of dread (a pacing that I have a feeling is going to scare even me!).... I can't wait to see this film next week when it comes to my local theater! And I will be sure to bring my smelling salts for the faint of heart!
Of course these are only a few suggestions of how to get into the holiday season, I left out some of the my favorites for sure (Rosemary's Baby, 28 Days Later, Santa Sangre, The Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors annual awesomeness, Cape Fear, Rebecca) but I guess what I was actually trying to do with this post was make a sort of comparative observation about the nature of horror...there are so many ways to be scared in a movie theater- from monster movie, to psychological thriller, from documentary/mockumentary/shockumentary, to CGI ghosts- and the ways just keep expanding with technology's ability to scare us into another world! Even though this is the case, the simplicity of so much older horror, the tension and power in the narratives alone (narratives usually based on classic novels or gothic stories, myths and legends) is an important element to all filmmaking that should be regarded just as highly as all of the fake blood in the world! Horror movies are scary but as films/cultural artifacts they continue a tradition of storytelling (often of parables, lessons, and conflicts) that should continue to be cherished, shared, and screamed at forever as they inspire a rich history that, like a good fable, teach us a lot about our own morality and existence! Happy Halloween dear readers! And remember: don't be afraid of the dark!