In SVB Halloween Theater, we asked various musicians and fellow bloggers to talk about some of their favorite horror films.
Mike McGinnis – Plaque Marks
Before Ridley Scott gave us an origin story we never asked for, there was the simple fear of the unknown that ‘Alien’ did better than any movie before or since. Anyone who loves this film could speak at length about the hidden allegories buried in it’s subtext, some obvious (the sexual nature of it’s brand of fear), and some not-so-obvious (the post-Vietnam era paranoia buried in it’s plot), but all of that isn’t even necessary. The simple fact that this movie is still so scary, still visually holds up (an understatement), and is still considered something that broke new ground in horror/sci-fi (and transcended both of those genres) is a testament to it’s greatness. Giger’s monster design works itself flawlessly into the sexual-horror theme, the set and background designs look like something straight out of Lovecraft’s mind, and the casting is damn-near perfect.
John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ (1982)
Speaking of Lovecraft, it’s generally agreed upon that there has never been a thoroughly well-done adaptation of his work from page to screen. But there are works described as ‘Lovecraftian’, and I’d say this is among the best. Like ‘Alien’, this film gives no answers to the questions it poses, and that ambiguity is exactly what makes it so scary. Of course this movie is technically a remake, but John Carpenter took the source material from ‘Who Goes There’ and ran laps around the original. The isolation and paranoia make the formless creature almost secondary. Not only does the monster challenge the familiar human form, but the one piece of comfort you could find in horror movies (let’s stick together) is ripped away from the viewer. Aside from the horror themes, as a film itself this movie shines. Practical effects, the score, the casting…
all done masterfully.
The Shining (1980)
Lately I’ve seen some people start to shy away from Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ because of the outward distaste that Stephen King and some of his fans have expressed towards this film as an unfaithful version of the source material. Granted, I’m sure the naysayers are still in the minority, but it seems a little more prevalent than I can ever remember seeing. I personally love that Kubrick made this his own. King’s works are notoriously difficult to adapt. So much of what he writes exists as subtext or within the mind of his characters. I think Kubrick knew he’d never do it justice within the running time of a single film and did what he had to do to make his own masterpiece. He even makes it clear in the opening sequence, when the family passes by a crushed red VW on the road, which in the book was the vehicle that brings them to the Overlook. This is Kubrick saying “this is mine now”, and I think it was well worth it to let him make that statement, because what we got is one of the best horror films of all time.
Those first 3 picks were easy for me to make… but having only 4 spots, I really racked my brain on this last one. Of course The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, Halloween, or A Nightmare On Elm Street could all sit in this spot, but I decided to go with something a little more dark. I grew up scared to death of Hellraiser, and I still love it to this day. I love that Clive Barker and his crew grew up on the British horror classic Hammer films of the 50s and 60s and decided to revitalize UK horror by making a new, frightening and iconic movie of their own. It also really seems like a backlash to the American slasher craze of the 70s and 80s. The Cenobites, while demons from hell, aren’t really even the monsters in this movie. It’s the wants and desires of Frank and Julia that get twisted into a nightmare, morphing some of the main characters into the true villains and making them arguably more frightening than the actual monsters themselves.
Kyle Rasmussen – Vitriol
Choosing which way to go with this was difficult. Covering my favorite films of all time would be low hanging fruit, as there’s nothing I could say about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that hasn’t been said a hundred times before. So I opted to mix it up by sharing an under represented classic, a modern cult classic, and a brand new film that proves they’re still making great horror/thrillers if you care to pay attention.
Funny Games (1997)
Although this is an undisputed cult classic, it still seems under represented to me. This Austrian thriller by Michael Haneke represents the pinnacle of my favorite narrative in dark film; cold, senseless, sociopathic sadism. Some people dislike the movie for the very reason I find it to be so beautiful, It doesn’t concern itself with trivial personal motives and drama. This movie really isn’t ABOUT anything aside from the relationship between the captives and their captors. It’s pure in its cruelty. The dynamic of the hyper emotional victim and the indifferent sociopath isn’t exclusive to Funny Games, but for the reasons I mentioned above I believe it showcases the most harrowing and affective example of it.
Lars Von Trier edged his way into my top five films of all time when he released Antichrist in 2009. Even before Black Craft Cult and Tumblr Witches castrated the impact of Satan and the occult in popular culture by turning it into a teenage novelty, it was difficult to make a film dealing with occult themes that wasn’t heavy-handed and tired. Von Trier accomplished just that. This movie is as fresh and unique as it is suffocatingly cold and anxious. It seems to swell in and out of lucidity. One moment it’s firmly rooted in the very real, local grief of two parents mourning the loss of their son, and the next you’re navigating hallucinogenic supernatural visions. Antichrist introduces the concept of Satan in a role that I feel is very important: one of a Father, of order in chaos, of quiet rage, of nature and its endless beauty. I was so moved by the film that it inspired the lyrics to the second and title track on our debut 2012 EP, “Antichrist.”
It Comes at Night (2017)
Man, what a fucking movie. On its face it doesn’t give you much. The title suggests something supernatural, maybe a demon or a monster flick, then the synopsis presents the poorly aged “worldwide outbreak of an infectious disease” plot device. It doesn’t really beg you to see the movie. But that’s because it’s hard to advertise what makes this movie so special, and that’s the acting. These people acted their fucking asses off. Especially Joel Edgerton, what an underrated actor. Their ability to create genuine suspense and authentic tragedy is second to none. Ultimately this is a movie about people, and what good people can and will do in the name of self preservation and protecting those they love. The narrative is so tightly contained within the perspectives of the characters that it results in one of the most intimate feeling movies I’ve ever seen. There are very few stories that can get away with this little of exposition. It doesn’t tug you along the plot like a wandering leashed child. What is known to them is known to you, as is the unknown, and that’s where the magic happens.