Does your favorite make the cut?
Welcome to the second edition of the Movie Watcher’s Club! I’m glad that you guys made it because you’re in for a thrill. Last month, I debuted this series and alluded to our staff discussing horror films. Is it cliche of us to write about the genre in October? Pretty much, yeah. Did I purposely wait until Friday the 13th to release this article instead of last Thursday like originally planned? I felt obligated too; I just couldn’t help it. However, the timing also is just so fitting. It’s Autumn, a season when the nights begin to grow longer, the air begins to chill, and the leaves begin to change color. The Earth, in a way, dies in order to be reborn in the Spring. Or it’s just my subconscious trying to justify a social norm created by corporations to push specific merchandise, I don’t know. Either way, let’s just go with it and carry on the tradition of horror movies in October.
What is it about this genre that draws people in? We are effectively watching individuals go through awfully traumatic experiences that we certainly never want to happen to us. Who the hell wants a man in a mask chasing us around and killing loved ones? Who the hell wants to be hypnotized into The Sunken Place? I know I certainly don’t, and I can safely assume that neither do you.
Interestingly enough, some psychologists suggest that the people watch horror films to experience that thrill of emotions we get watching this paradoxical event. We as viewers place ourselves in the situation of these characters, empathizing with their fear and trauma. These emotions stem from the situations on the screen having some semblance of realism, yet we know that the events of the movie are that of fiction. They never occurred. This paradox allows us to continually watch horror films over images of real-world horrors. Viewing (SPOILER ALERT!) Rosemary Woodhouse discover the secret room where her fellow tenants are gathered around the crib of her child is drastically different than being in a real-life situation where a group of people kidnap your baby and claim it to be The Devil. You don’t recover from the later.
Speaking of Rosemary’s Baby, some films didn’t make our list. I apologize if your favorite film didn’t make our list. When it comes to lists, these things happen. And yes, everyone at Holyfield is aware that Alien is a horror film. Unfortunately, no one selected it to discuss. This doesn’t mean that we think (insert movie) is bad. We are here to discuss the horror films that we, as individuals, enjoy and hope you enjoy as well. Without further ado, let’s get into our movie choices!
Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Director: Michael Dougherty
Writer: Michael Dougherty
Stars: Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker
A high school principal hiding a secret life as a serial killer. A college beauty with a hairy secret. A nasty band of teenagers with mischief on their minds. A woman with a hatred for Halloween forced to contend with her husband’s joviality. A bitter old man faces off with a demonic supernatural spirit. Trick ‘r Treat is the story of five interwoven tales that all take place on the spookiest night of the year.
With Trick ‘r Treat, director Michael Dougherty executed a masterclass in the holiday spirit. From the film’s brilliant set design to its unexpected twists and turns, Trick ‘r Treat proves the perfect companion to an eerie Halloween night alone at home. Just remember to always check your candy.
Green Room (2015)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat
I am not a big horror fan. I get their purpose and why good horror is good, but I’ve just never been a big fan outside of certain films. The most recent of which is Green Room. This film came out in 2015, two years after writer and director Jeremy Saulnier’s gorgeously somber Blue Ruin. It is a revenge tale on the coast of Virginia that builds its tension very naturally and casually. Saulnier takes the tension up to 11 with Green Room, continuing his use of realism to drive the story. At the tail end of a DIY tour, hardcore band, The Ain’t Rights, get a gig at a local bar in rural Oregon, run by members of the “alt-right.” Nazis. It’s run by neo-Nazis.
After witnessing a murder, the band, along with the victim’s friend, lock themselves in the eponymous green room. Saulnier instills true terror in this seemingly inescapable scenario. Patrick Stewart is truly terrifying as the bar’s proprietor, though the acting from the entire cast is great all around. The violence is often brief, though brutal, and most of the thrill of the film comes from the incredible amount of tension. Saulnier uses green throughout the film, similar to its spiritual predecessor with blue. He throws it in for aesthetic at times, like a character’s clothes or hair, but then there are truly stunning moments like how the gorgeous landscape of rural Oregon contrasts the horrors of the film.
This won’t be heralded as a classic. It just doesn’t fit the mold of the genre-defining films. It’s something else though. Saulnier has got something going here with his last two films. A series of horror films that don’t cast aside integral aspects of production, like directing and writing. He’s created gorgeous looking movies that do not skimp on the tension or the violence that all great horror flicks have. So after indulging in the classics this October, be sure to check out this new gem.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Writers: Victor Miller, Sean S. Cunningham, Ron Kurz
Stars: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor
Ki, ki, ki… ma, ma, ma — these legendary sounds are both eerie and haunting.
Harry Manfredini’s creepy score echoes brilliantly throughout Sean S. Cunningham’s cult 80’s horror film Friday the 13th. It adds to the film that gave birth to the classic genre, the slasher flick.
It’s 1980 and time to reopen Camp Blood… ahem, I mean Camp Crystal Lake! The annual (much more so in that era) teen ritual to Summer Camp has never been so much bloody fun to watch. Soon after the campers arrive, the campfire stories start. Until now, why has this camp been shut down? Is the legend of Jason Vorhees true? And most importantly — are we next?
Do yourself a favor this Halloween and take a look at this 80’s cult classic and witness the birth of the Friday the 13th franchise. If nothing else, revel in a memorable, though brief, cameo of Kevin Bacon.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writers: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger
Yes, sure, any fan of horror ought to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper’s lurid, blood-soaked classic. The 84-minute nightmare is a visceral experience perhaps unmatched in American cinema in terms of blunt force, unrelenting violence, and constant, nausea-inducing dread. It’s like waiting around for 30 minutes for the acid to kick in when suddenly you’re swallowed into the yawning tar pits of hell.
But The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is more than a splatterfest exploitation film where the blonde girl not wearing a bra is put through a terrible and violent ordeal (though it is that too). It’s a heavy and serious work of art, an essential entry in the American film canon. It’s an indictment of postmodern industrial capitalism and the decay of rural America, more like Faulkner than John Carpenter; it’s a meditation on man’s inherent brutality and its relationship with technology; it’s a sharp allegory for Hollywood (you ever notice how much a film projector sounds like a chainsaw?) and its disregard for humanity, especially that of women; it’s a visual spectacle, as vivid and beautiful as it is grotesque. It’s not a movie for everyone, but not even the most vaunted works of art are.
Watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre once for the scares, the meat hook scene, Leatherface; watch it twice, three times, a dozen for the astute social commentary and virtuosic filmmaking.
Director: Brian De Palma
Writers: Stephen King, Lawrence D. Cohen
Stars: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
Carrie, while not a particularly terrifying film by today’s standards, is one of those stories that will seem to always stand the test of time no matter how much we wish it wouldn’t. We probably are all familiar with the final twenty minutes involving prom, a bucket of pigs blood, and a psychic murder spree. It’s a great climax. But what I really adore about Carrie is what happens beforehand.
The film could almost pass itself off as a typical teen movie if it didn’t have its ending because it hits a lot of the check boxes for your standard coming of age film. High school setting? Check. Main character is confronted with a normal consequence of growing up? Check(ish) — the film uses her period and the new psychic powers as a double-edged metaphor. The main girl gets a makeover and asked to prom by cutest guy in school? Check. The antagonist is another preppy type? Check. Incompetent school employees? SUPER check.
Instead, Carrie is more of a modern Frankenstein; you’re led to believe Carrie is the monster when it turns out it was her environment. Carrie is not Hollywood pretty. She is not mentally well or developed. She is completely innocent and unaware of how to be social. All she knows is fear. And in some way, that fear cuts into you. That’s why we cheer when Carrie finally snaps instead of shiver. To punish the people who are cruel and to shake off religious idealism of kindness and just create hell. So yeah, maybe Carrie herself is also scary. Because each of us has Carrie boiling inside us.
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Wes Craven
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
This isn’t your average slasher film. That is to say, the uniqueness in this Wes Craven masterpiece comes from the element of the supernatural in the form of a literal “Dream-Killer” Freddy Krueger. The sheer fact that a deranged maniac can find you in the one place of absolute solace and safety — you own dreams — is still spine-tingling to even type out. The lasting, truly memorable scene is when the first victim, Tina, is stalked and mercilessly gutted in her dream world, followed by the helpless boyfriend, Rod, discovering the murder in real time in her room. Tina is shown to be virtually slashed in her bed by an unknown entity!
Admittedly, even I am not one to immediately drive out to catch a horror flick nowadays. However, we should appreciate Wes Craven’s depth of perception to create a world of what is believed to be real and what is believed to be that of the dream. I highly recommend this be added to anyone’s October repertoire.
Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Writers: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Stars: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
I’m not a horror movie person. I’ve got a weak stomach for gore and a vivid imagination, so the usual hack-and-slash is almost always a no-go. The Blair Witch Project is perfect for me in this regard; I can avoid the emotional scarring that excess blood and guts usually leaves me with while having my imagination do the heavy lifting for scares. Blair Witch is a psychological thriller more than anything else — we’re never sure if the witch is present or a simple figment of imagination in the minds of three sleep-deprived teenagers.
So many people hated this movie because they went into it expecting to scream and cover their eyes. But the best horror mockumentary of all time (please stay out of my mentions if you’re going to say that title belongs to Cloverfield) instead plants seeds of uncertainty and unease and waters them throughout. It’s ingenious for the way that the antagonist is never clear; it’s a classic because it remains that way after every re-watch.
Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison
The only movie on our list to have “impaled by a unicorn” as a death, Cabin in the Woods is satire at its best. The film covers all the tropes in the horror genre. You have a group of teens, in a cabin, in the woods, isolated from the world, and committing acts of moral indecency not accepted by society. Spells are cast, zombies are beheaded, and Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, soars in the air on a dirtbike like he’s Evil Knievel, only to crash into a forcefield preventing the characters from leaving. Yeah, it’s that sort of movie.
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon are pros at blending horror with satire and comedy. They had tons of practice with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s truly impressive that a movie with so many deaths and genuine scares can also by so satirical and so funny. The majority of the films in this list are truly terrifying horror films and understandably so — it’s a horror films list. However, Cabin in the Woods is a perfect change of pace film. And again, a bleeping unicorn impales a person!
Director: John Carpenter
Writers: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran
The movie that shares the same name as the holiday, John Carpenter’s Halloween has become synonymous with October 31st. The film is, quite frankly, a horror masterpiece. The formula is simple: escaped mental patient returning to his hometown on Halloween night to stalk and murder a group of high schoolers. But simplicity works here, and by the time the credits roll, viewers are peeking behind doors and checking their closets before going to sleep.
All the pieces came together to make this movie great. Not only did the film capture the psychological horror and suspense of a murderous stalker, but John Carpenter’s eerie score helped engrain Michael Myers in our minds as the quintessential Halloween boogie man. Honorable mention also goes out to William Shatner for lending his face (albeit by accident) to create one of the most iconic images in horror film history: Michael Myers’ mask.
Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Kevin Williamson
Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
I have never been a fan of scary movies. Horror is, without a doubt, my least favorite genre. If you invite me to a scary movie night you’ll have to deal with me crying behind a pillow all night. However, when you ask me what my favorite movie is though, the answer is always going to be Scream.
Wes Craven’s 1996 hit tells the story of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and her friends as their small town is terrorized by a masked murderer who takes his love of horror movies a little too far. It’s also funny, lighthearted, and poignant. Craven consistently delivers bloody murders throughout the film, but he also creates characters that you can’t help but root for as they all try to navigate through their own past traumas to find a little bit of peace.
The Scream legacy still lives on today. With four movies and an MTV show with the third season premiering early next year, it shows that the world still loves Craven’s iconic formula of suspense, comedy, and criticisms of pop culture. I definitely do, and will show up to every scary movie night this year with my collector’s edition boxed set.
Are you terrified yet? Or are you pumped that it’s October and you have a great excuse to watch these amazing films? Don’t forget to check out the list, and others from the Holyfield on Letterboxd. Next month’s list is going to be a surprise that I do not want to spoil. All I will say is that it involves the number two. Now, go out there and watch these movies!