FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 22, 2020

SHOCKtober: 271-245



Well, already we're at the final chunk o' list featuring films that received three votes each. Enjoy your final day in the spotlight, you trilogies of terror, 'cause tomorrow we start getting kinky with foursomes and moresomes!

271. Something Wicked This Way Comes -- 1983, Jack Clayton
270. Son of Frankenstein -- 1939, Rowland V. Lee
269. Sorority Row -- 2009, Stewart Hendler
268. Sugar Hill -- 1974, Paul Maslansky
267. Suicide Club -- 2001, Sion Soto
266. Teeth -- 2007, Mitchell Lichtenstein
265. The Babysitter -- 2017, McG
264. The Children -- 2008, Tom Shankland
263. The Loved Ones -- 2009, Sean Byrne
262. The Lure -- 2015, Agnieszka Smocszynska
261. The Midnight Hour -- 1985, Jack Bender
260. The Neon Demon -- 2016, Nicolas Winding Refn
259. The Old Dark House -- 1932, James Whale
258. The Stepford Wives -- 1975, Bryan Forbes
257. The Witches -- 1990, Nicolas Roeg
256. The Woman in Black -- 1989, Herbert Wise
255. Thelma -- 2017, Joachim Trier
254. Triangle -- 2009, Christopher Smith
253. Trilogy of Terror -- 1975, Dan Curtis
252. Urban Legend -- 1998, Jamie Blanks
251. Uzumaki (aka Spiral) -- 2000, Higuchinsky
250. Viy -- 1967, Konstantin Ershov & Georgiy Kropachyov
249. We Are Still Here -- 2015, Ted Geoghegan
248. Wes Craven's New Nightmare -- 1994, Wes Craven
247. When Animals Dream -- 2014, Jonas Alexander Arnby
246. Witchboard -- 1986, Kevin Tenney
245. Wolfen -- 1981, Michael Wadleigh

  • Ugh, The Old Dark House is such a treasure. So funny, so charming, even kinda spooky. A must see!
  • Viy is also a treasure, what a delightfully theatrical fairy tale of a film. 
  • A reader called The Children "a gold standard creepy kids movie" and I totally agree! It's such a nasty little gem.
  • A big heck yeah to Thelma getting some love! I mentioned on my Top 20 that it almost made my list and that is the truth. A gorgeous film with filled with *chefs kiss* actressing.
  • I am not a musicals gal but holy crapping crap do I love The Lure.
  • I try not to think about the fact that I was due to see a theatrical production of The Woman in Black in NYC this past April, but...well, we've all missed out on cool opportunities over the last nine months, I'm sure. Still. This pandemic sucks big ass! But we'll get through it. Right?

FAVE 20: Jason Edward Davis


Lemme tell you, Jason Edward Davis gives great movie recommendations, especially to folks like me who think they've seen everything, because clearly I have not but clearly he has. Jason knows every movie! If I say "Jason, I'm in the mood for a slasher, what should I watch?" he won't say "Have you heard of Psycho?"--he will say "The Legend of the Willywompadoo Swamp Killer is a good one!" or something, you know, the one 80s slasher I haven't heard of, never mind seen.

Jason also puts his movie knowledge to incredible use in his work as an artist. Horror folks around Portland OR are familiar with Jason's work from gallery shows and the like, in particular his work as the resident artist for the Queer Horror series at the Hollywood Theatre.  I love that so much of his work centers the oft-overlooked women in horror films, the sidekicks and the weirdos, including some of the queens he mentions in his list. And he draws cats both spooky and cute and plenty of horror hunks too, ok my. Here's his website. Spend some time giving your eyeballs some treats!

And spend some time with Jason's favorite 20 horror films! I knew there would be some off-the-beaten-path entries and it doesn't disappoint.



NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988, Kevin Tenney)


It's Judy's turn to cry... for help!


DEMONS (1985, Lamberto Bava)


Perfect movie, perfect cast, but the real question is... how did the usherette get the job? What was the application process like? Who trained her? Does she have a comprehensive benefit package?


DEMONS 2 (1986, Lamberto Bava)


When Sally is the life of the party, it means the party is going to be the death of everyone else!


KILLER PARTY (1986, William Fruet)


When I was kid, this movie would play on the television in the afternoon all the time. Now it plays in my heart all of the time. Bless Sherry Willis-Burch, who plays Vivia, my favorite final girl. She laughs, she loves, she lives!


SPOOKIES (1986, Genie Joseph, Thomas Doran, & Brendan Faulkner)


Five minutes in and the kid is dead. Then the spider woman shows up, after the mud monsters, but before the monkey-like-carny-killer, in the room with the haunted-trivial pursuit, next to the grim reaper, who works for the pale man with the head thing, who's in love with the ghost, who isn't a ghost, but she's good, but also the mother of the other monster kid.


NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CLASS REUNION (1982, Michael Miller)


What do you get when you combine a devil worshiper, a vampire, a serial killer (who is not Ben Stiller), and Bunny Packard? A sleepover at my house... I mean, a class reunion! MVP goes to Zane Busby, as Delores Salk, a real go-getter.


EKO EKO AZARAK: WIZARD OF DARKNESS (1995, Shimako Sato)


A teenage witch, an inescapable school, and a huge body count! Yes please!


IT FOLLOWS (2014, David Robert Mitchell)


It followed me all the way home... and now we are married. I don't make the rules, I just lock the doors.


STAGEFRIGHT (1987, Michele Soavi)


Hide the axe, tuck in the chainsaw, put away the knives, because once this dancing owl hears the sweet-sweet sounds of burning-hot-cool-murder-saxophone no one is safe! But then again, danger has never looked this cute!


CHEERLEADER CAMP (1988, John Quinn)


Lucinda Dickey will have you yelling Cory all the way to the insane asylum! Poor Bonnie though.


I SAW THE DEVIL (2010, Jee-woon Kim)


I saw the devil and the devil saw me... we both cried. It's been a hard year.


HONEYMOON (2014, Leigh Janiak)


I've never been more upset watching someone fail to make coffee. Watch this, then read Claire C. Holland's book of poetry I Am Not Your Final Girl.


THE BONEYARD (1991, James Cummins)


Hands-down my favorite leading lady. A burned out psychic a.k.a. middle-aged butch who rises from a pile of laundry like a phoenix from the ashes to take on zombie children, poodles, and Phyllis Diller.


THE MIDNIGHT HOUR (1985, Jack Bender)


I refuse to acknowledge a life in which this isn't watched every October since it came out.


THE TALL MAN (2012, Pascal Laugier)


What can I say, I got a bad case of the Beasles!


PUMPKINHEAD (1988, Stan Winston)


I first saw this when I was the age of Lance Henriksen's kid. Now I am older than Pumpkinhead and I would like to think we've both grown during this time.


TRIANGLE (2009, Christopher Smith)


This is my High Tension.


THE KISS (1988, Pen Densham)


National treasure, Meredith Salenger, with the help of an amazing eagle sweater, must fight for her life against her beautiful-witch-aunt Joanna Pacula. If you grew up in the '80s you were terrified of dying on an escalator. This movie shows you why!


MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973, Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz)


When this movie pulls over and offers you a ride in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, you'll be saying "sure, why not" all the way to the end! You'll be so in love with the cast and the visuals that you won't even realize you're being surrounded... until it's too late!


JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993, Adam Marcus)


Body jumping, Jason Voorhees, and an endless parade of character actors?! I don't want to be right, when being wrong is this bad... I mean, good!

Oct 21, 2020

SHOCKtober: 304-272



Once again, here we are in the magical land where the films received three votes each!

304. Evil Dead -- 2013, Fede Alvarez
303. Eyes of Laura Mars -- 1978, Irvin Kershner
302. From Dusk Till Dawn -- 1996, Robert Rodriguez
301. Ghoulies -- 1984, Luca Bercovici
300. Halloween H20 -- 1998, Steve Miner
299. House of 1000 Corpses -- 2003, Rob Zombie
298. House on Haunted Hill -- 1999, William Malone
297. In Fabric -- 2018, Peter Strickland
296. Inferno -- 1980, Dario Argento
295. Insidious -- 2010, James Wan
294. Intruder -- 1989, Scott Spiegel
293. Jeepers Creepers -- 2001, xx
292. Killer Workout (aka Aerobicide) -- 1987, David A. Prior
291. Kwaidan -- 1964, Masaki Kobayashi
290. Let Us Prey -- 2014, Brian O'Malley
289. Lifeforce -- 1985, Tobe Hooper
288. Lost Highway -- 1997, David Lynch
287. Mandy -- 2018, Panos Cosmatos
286. Maniac -- 1980, William Lustig
285. Maniac Cop -- 1988, William Lustig
284. Opera -- 1987, Dario Argento
283. Ouija: Origin of Evil -- 2016, Mike Flanagan
282. Pan's Labyrinth -- 2006, Guillermo del Toro
281. Perfect Blue -- 1997, Satoshi Kon
280. Piranha -- 1978, Joe Dante
279. Piranha 3D -- 2012, John Gulager
278. Pulse (aka Kairo) -- 2001, Kiyoshi Kurosawa
277. Pyewacket -- 2017, Adam MacDonald
276. Return of the Living Dead III -- 1993, Brian Yuzna
275. Seed of Chucky -- 2004, Don Mancini
274. Silent Scream -- 1979, Denny Harris
273. Sisters -- 1972, Brian De Palma
272. The Phantom of the Opera -- 1925, Rupert Julian


  • Why, as I just mentioned earlier today, Pulse (Kairo) nearly made my list of 20 faves. It perfectly encapsulates my 2020 pandemic mood.
  • I have never seen Ghoulies and let's face it, I probably never will. But! I am more inclined to since I just learned that Lisa "'Jennifer' in the movie Jennifer" Pelikan is in it?!
  • Of Piranha 3D, a reader said: "Watching Jerry O'Connell's dismembered penis being spit out by a fish in 3D was one of the bright spots to my existence."
  • Of House of 1000 Corpses, a reader said: "I am straight up ashamed that I love this stupid broken awful movie. Maybe it's because Chris Hardwick gets scalped in it."
  • Lifeforce is so goddamn bonkers, it is perfect 80s and perfectly cocaine.
  • YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT KILLER WORKOUT AND SMALL BUSINESS OWNER RHONDA JOHNSON.

FAVE 20: Yours Truly


Here's a glimpse behind the curtain: I finalized my list just this past weekend! That's right, while cruelly demanding that all special guest lists met a pre-SHOCKtober deadline, I worked on mine until a few days ago. Being able to wait is just one of the many, many perks of being a Blog Owner. Okay, it's actually the only perk, but I treasure it nonetheless!

There was only one spot, really, I was focused on. I spent a great deal of time ruminating on many films as they wrassled for the incredible privilege of being called one of my favorites. I'm sure you all know the pain of making many a Sophie's choice! But it finally all settled into place like a good cheek filler and this list is the most me it can possibly be. Here we go, in no particular order!



THE HAUNTING (1963, Robert Wise)


This quintessential haunted house movie is a terrifying exercise in minimalism that burrows deep under my skin every time I watch it. We never see whatever it is that stalks the halls of Hill House, but it's there, clawing and pressing at the doors, trying to get in. The wood buckles, the doorknobs slowly turn--it is chilling enough to break my brain! Credit goes to Robert Wise, of course, for knowing the power of unseen horrors--but credit is also owed to this cast that truly sells those horrors. When the impossibly cool Theo (Claire Bloom) panics as the thunderous footsteps draw closer to her room, when playful playboy Luke (Russ Tamblyn), frozen in fear, drops his booze bottle, when Eleanor (Julie Harris)--prickly, fragile, lost Eleanor, speeding towards her end--snaps out of her daze and realizes that Hill House has fully claimed her at last...it all feels real, that we're right to be scared of this ugly house and its ugly history, and that the townsfolk are right to live no closer than town, not to come any nearer than that.


MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973, Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz)


"They're waiting for you...and they'll take you, one by one. And no one will hear you scream!" God DAMN do I love Messiah of Evil. It's possible that it caught my eye during a SHOCKtober past--whenever it was, it was definitely here when a kindly commenter recommended it. As we all know, I love a town with a secret, and Messiah's Point Dune is a town by the seaside and under a blood red moon with a cult of the undead secret. Is it any wonder I fell in love so hard? I've never seen another film capture the idea of the uncanny so well. In the beginning voiceover (very reminiscent of another love, Let's Scare Jessica to Death), our heroine tells us that Point Dune "doesn't look any different than a thousand other neon stucco towns," and it's true. From the bright lights and overwhelming walls of products at an empty grocery store to the televisions displayed in storefront windows to the marquee of the local movie theatre, Point Dune looks like Average Small Town, USA. But it feels wrong. It's too quiet, for one thing. The streets are always empty. If the townsfolk aren't acting strange--standing silently on the beach staring out to the sea, or silently looking to the sky--then they're afraid of those who are. Every instance of comfortable, familiar Americana dissolves when the horrors awaiting in that grocery store and on those streets and at that beach and in that theatre are revealed.

And they're revealed after sequences of long buildup, where the tension ratchets up as, say, Laura walks down the grocery store aisles or the seats behind Toni at the theatre slowly fill up . Messiah of Evil is a masterful example of using mood and atmosphere to the utmost, and it's a gorgeous rumination on the creative process to boot, full of art, striking cinematography and colorful production design. I will never not recommend this film! The Code Red physical media editions are out of print and pricy, but there's a handsome transfer on YouTube, of all places. Check it out.


THE DESCENT (2005, Neil Marshall)


It's always heartbreaking when that photo I've just posted appears onscreen after all is said and done and those six women are gone, killed by horrors they never could have predicted. Who knew that monsters from our nightmares are real, and that being trapped by a cave-in wouldn't end up the worst part of their day? There's no doubt that Neil Marshall made a bonafide genre classic: the sense of claustrophobia is palpable. It's got lots of cringe-worthy violence and gore in times of pure action and relative quiet. The creature design is some of the best. But what keeps this movie feeling fresh and vital to me are those six women and the relationships between them. Marshall gives us plenty of time to get to know them and the cast chemistry makes this one of horror's greatest ensembles, which only heightens the tragedy of it all. They display remarkable resolve and courage in the face of indescribable terror and there are small, human moments that take these characters beyond the usual stock archetypes we get in these kinds of movies: I think of Sam, the future surgeon, giving a last tentative glance at her hands before she ruins them in her desperation to survive. I think of the deep friendship between Sarah and Beth brought to an end neither of them should have had to face. I think of sisters Sam and Becca protecting each other and encouraging each other to push on. There is such relief in gulping in that fresh air alongside Sarah when we think she's found a way out, but ultimately the UK ending feels right to me--not just because the US version ends on a dumb jump scare, but because of that bittersweet photo.


THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999, Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez)


Of course, of course. This movie was (and continues to be) an experience and I cannot overstate how much I love it. It made me the found footage apologist / aficionado I am today. It still scares me beyond belief. Although it is not set in New England, it taps into my homegrown love of witches and witches' graves and urban legends and the woods and all the horrors waiting within. I feel this movie. 

It's also interesting to dissect the politics in this film, the way the two men berate and undermine Heather almost from the jump, their gaslighting and disdain so palpable and obvious that a silly fan theory has evolved, which is that they lured her out there to the woods to kill her. It's ridiculous, of course, but it does speak to the fine whiff of misogyny that seeps in from time to time in the film and in the fandom. No, they say, this isn't a film about a woman who just fucking wants to make a movie and ends up mired in a supernatural situation beyond her control, it's actually a movie about these two men. They are driving the narrative! Meanwhile, Heather cops the blame for a situation wherein she did absolutely nothing wrong and still goes on to frame one of the most iconic shots in horror film history. Justice 4 Heather Donahue, Heather Donahue 4ever.


FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 (1981, Steve Miner)...no wait, FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982, Steve Miner)...PART 2? PART III...PART III? PART 2


I have long maintained that Part 2's Baghead Jason is best Jason, and while that is still true, my love for Part III cannot be denied. It cannot be denied so much that there is constantly a war for my affections waging between these two movies! Ultimately I couldn't decide...or maybe I decided that I want both. Part 2 is full of iconic moments and characters, from the machete in Mark's head to Mrs. Voorhees's beef jerky head to Ginny fucking goddamn Field...but I ask, does Part III not also have more than its share? The spear in Vera's eye (RIP, queen), Jason putting on that hockey mask but sometimes giving us a peek at what's underneath it, and BIG DUH, horror's most underrated, underappreciated, and overlooked BOSS of a Final Girl, Chris motherfucking Higgins. All of that in THREE whole dimensions. It's clearly my favorite Friday the 13th! But then again, I love Jason showing up in Alice's apartment in Part 2, and...ugh. I now pronounce them movie and movie, and their marriage makes them one big experience that's my fave Friday.


THE WITCH (2015, Robert Eggers)


This masterpiece exemplifies some of the things I mentioned when talking about The Blair Witch Project, mainly my love of New England and everything spooky therein. The woods! Finally the woods of my dreams (nightmares) was captured on film: the darkness, the sheer size, the beauty, the foreboding. The wind is foreboding in this movie. Everything is foreboding in this movie. It evokes the damp, the chill, and the grey of a perpetual Autumn. I find the tension throughout The Witch almost unbearable as I wait for this hyper-religious family to tear itself apart or for the horror of the woods to emerge or both; the tension and build are so much for me that the first time I saw it (in the theatre, opening weekend...RIP Before Times), I said OH MY GOD right out loud like a fool when some of said tension broke during that raven scene. I expected to get a great horror film and to be scared, and I got all that. What I didn't expect, however, was a parable about women's autonomy. I never could have predicted that Thomasin would choose to live deliciously and instead of being punished, she flew up into the trees feeling nothing but joy. Before 2015 I'd long lamented on the pages of this here blog that I vehemently wanted more witches in my scary movies...even so, I thought that if I got 'em, those witches'd never be allowed to live. The Witch proved me wrong and ushered in an era that has vastly shifted the way women's stories are told in horror.


STRAIT-JACKET (1964, William Castle)


It's not William Castle's most bonkers movie, but oh, is Strait-Jacket so much fun. As Lucy Harbin, Joan Crawford takes an axe and gives her cheating lover forty whacks, then emerges from the asylum years later and attempts to rebuild her life and her relationship with her daughter (played by a young Diane Baker, aka one Senator Ruth Martin, she of the fantastic suit). Is Lucy holding on to her sanity? Or is she responsible for all the freshly axed heads rolling around?

It is absolutely as campy as it sounds, of course, but Strait-Jacket is so much more than that thanks to Crawford, who turns in a bravura performance. She approaches the role like she approached every role, committing to Lucy Harbin the way she committed to, say, Mildred Pierce. She goes over-the-top as she vamps it up, putting on her jangly charm bracelet and practically shoving her fingers in the mouth of her daughter's boyfriend as she hits on him. But she also lets us feel the weight of Lucy's guilt and pain over her past and all the years she lost. Seeing her desperately try to hold on as it seems her sanity is slipping away again isn't merely a horror movie "will she or won't she?" thrill, it's downright heartbreaking. She's awards-worthy, quite frankly, in a movie that also features really fake-looking decapitated heads. Actresses like Crawford are why the subgenre is called Grand Dame Guignol, after all. Strait-Jacket is a treasure.


LAKE MUNGO (2008, Joel Anderson)


The first time I saw Lake Mungo, I fell in love with it. The second time I saw Lake Mungo, it left me too scared to sleep. It's never left me, and I think about Lake Mungo all the time. Yes, it has that scene, but it's all the unsettling quiet and dread before it that really makes that scene land with such a terrifying, devastating impact. This movie, a mockumentary about the Palmer family coping (or not coping) with the drowning death and possible spectral return of their 16-year-old daughter and sister Alice, is so perfectly constructed and acted it's easy to forget that it's fiction. Still photographs, videotapes, 8mm film, and newsreels tell some of Alice's story, but as we learn, "kept secrets...she kept the fact that she kept secrets a secret." The dialogue is largely improvised and the performances are so natural, it feels like we're actually watching how a family grieves and how some of them might dare to hope that Alice isn't truly gone. Alice was haunted, essentially, by her own death drawing ever-nearer, which feels very familiar as the number of infections continues to rise precipitously every day. That fatalism and sense of doom really speaks to me and is part of the reason why this film hasn't left me. That and, you know. That scene.


The WHISPERING CORRIDORS series (1998-2020)


Hey, if Ben can cite the Poltergeist trilogy as "a" fave in his list, then I can say the whole series! Sure, I like some of the entries more than others, but it's most interesting to look at the five films (there's a sixth on the way) as a whole. 

Whispering Corridors (1998), Memento Mori (1999), Wishing Stairs (2003), Voice (2005), and A Blood Pledge (2009) all use South Korean girls' high schools as a setting, but each socially-conscious film has a different plot and school and different characters, so they need not be watched in any particular order. They deal with various subject matters that these students face, whether it's the brutal school system itself, a suicide epidemic, peer pressure, or even taboo topics like gay relationships. They're hugely important films for many reasons, not the least because they helped kick off cinema's New Korean Wave in the late 90s.

All of this, of course, is wrapped in big supernatural packages with the requisite ghosts and the dark hallways they haunt. Some entries are more "horror" than others--Wishing Stairs might be the most overtly horror movie typical--and they probably won't keep you up at night, but as I've come to learn over the years of writing at Final Girl, that doesn't always matter. In fact, for me these days, it often doesn't. 

I love the creepiness of these movies, but what I love more--what I love most, even--are the relationships between the girls. Unlike most of their western "schoolgirl horror" counterparts, we get to see these characters (GASP) interact. They tease each other, they have fun, they confide in each other, they band together, they bully one another. These movies are spooky, funny, sad, and always interesting. While I'm not--nor have I ever been, SPOILER--a schoolgirl in South Korea, the experiences that play out ring true and familiar regardless. The specifics might not be the same, but hey, teen girls are gonna teen girl no matter where they are. If I have to recommend only a couple, they are Memento Mori, which was one of the first Korean films to explicitly depict a lesbian relationship onscreen rather than merely hint at it, and Voice, which is the most stylized of these movies (and also is gay as heck). I love Whispering Corridors, too. Actually I love all of them and that's why I listed all of them, see?


SALEM'S LOT (1979, Tobe Hooper)


When Tobe Hooper died, I watched Salem's Lot as a tribute. As much as I love it, watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre wasn't even a consideration that night. This is the only vampire movie for me, if I'm being honest, and one of the greatest--if not theeeeee greatest--made-for-TV horror movies. I will only indulge in the 2-part miniseries event version, thank you, because that shit is epic. Residents of a small town in Maine begin disappearing and dying to something that feels like a plague, but there's no plague. Finally, two hours in--TWO HOURS IN--Mr. Barlow makes his appearance and the true ill that has befallen Salem's Lot is revealed. I'm sure there are some who are not into the long-ass build-up, but I am certainly not one of those some. Give me more, I say! I wish Salem's Lot was a week long, because I can't get enough of it's horror-flavored soap opera feel. 

This movie--excuse me, this event--is so damn scary that I can't believe, still, that it was made for television. Mrs Glick's return? Ralphie Glick's return? Please. And I cannot stress enough how deeply Mr. Barlow terrifies me, like right down to my core. The kitchen scene, where he suddenly materializes from a dark heap on the floor and seems to fill the whole room, is it, baby. I love that he's just this mysterious, repulsive monster. Who is Kurt Barlow? Who was he before he was this? Was he anything before he was this? Who the fuck cares, I say. He is a plague, and that's all I need to know. There's nothing else that would help me anyway.


THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009, Ti West)


I am so into this movie. It's the perfect combination of waiting a while for something to happen and hey, the waiting is the point and something happened and it rocked your face off. I drink up the exquisite rising tension of House of the Devil every time I see it, even though I know when the action will really hit. I could watch Samantha explore that massive, unfamiliar, creepy-as-all-h-e-double-hockey-sticks house forever, whether she's doing it stealthily or bopping around as she blasts The Fixx on her Walkman. I love a what's behind the door? movie, and this is one of the best: who is this "grandma" that Sam has been hired to babysit, and why is grandma's door locked? Throw in an eclipse, a sinister pizza order, and a bathtub littered with hair trimmings and you've got a sinister WTF of a good time. And while this film is completely to blame for kicking off the retro trend in horror that we continue to deal with, it remains the one that, to me, gets what a 1983 horror movie feels like, the pacing, the editing, the set dressing, those hair styles...it still feels like a lost movie from another era. RIP to Megan, always the true pal who knew what was up the whole time, never the babysitter.


AMITYVILLE 4: THE EVIL ESCAPES (1989, Sandor Stern)


I talked a bit about my (our) love for all things Amityville the other day, but my love of Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes isn't necessarily a part of that, I don't think. You see, I love Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes because it dares to exist. How can this movie about a possessed floor lamp actually exist? People...made this movie? Like, people showed up to set everyday? To make a movie about a possessed floor lamp?? It seems like a joke--it has to be a joke--but somehow it is not a joke. It's treated completely seriously, which makes its existence all the more baffling. A floor lamp, purchased at a yard sale at 112 Ocean Avenue, becomes possessed by a demon. The floor lamp telekinetically drives a van! The floor lamp makes a garbage disposal turn on! The floor lamp drives a young girl to want to murder! The floor lamp has an evil face sometimes! The floor lamp battles Patty Duke, but the floor lamp loses when Patty Duke throws it off a cliff and it explodes on the rocky shore below! But then maybe a cat gets possessed, so does the floor lamp really lose? It doesn't matter. We all win, just because Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes is.

MARTYRS (2008, Pascal Laugier)


Martyrs always appears, rightly so, on those lists of the most extreme horror movies. It is violent, it is gory, it is brutal. To call it a "tough watch" is to put it way, way too mildly. In short, it is not my kind of movie! I don't enjoy watching people get tortured, and I don't "enjoy" Martyrs, but I do love it. It is a depressing film made by a depressed man, a film that speaks to our inhumanity to one another, to the way the wealthy (and white) will casually exploit the disenfranchised until there's nothing left. It is a rumination on our endless fixation on knowing the unknowable, on what's next, on what awaits us after the end, on what the point of all of this is. It seems that Laugier, in his state, was saying that there is no point beyond pain and suffering.

There's more to it, however, whether intended by Laugier or not, and it's what flayed me open the first time I saw Martyrs and what keeps me coming back to it: it is that for all its seeming inhumanity, Martyrs is actually imbued with kindness, and Martyrs is a love story. 

Anna is a saint long before the cult attempts to make her one, and it's why she is able to "transcend" at the end of her life. Despite this world continually beating her down or beating her loved one down--she and Lucie met at that orphanage, after all--Anna helps. She never stops. She talks Lucie down during her psychotic breaks. When she sees that one of Lucie's victims is still alive, she tries to get her to safety; Anna doesn't know that this woman was also one of Lucie's torturers, but she might have afforded her some kind of mercy regardless. She tries to rescue and gently takes care of the victim she finds in the basement. Laugier doesn't seem to want to reward this--rather, Anna's repeated kindness lead to her capture and torture. Martyrs feels like nihilism 101: the world doesn't reward kindness, he seems to say, and none of it matters. But it turns out that it does matter, and it's that surprising, secret, soft heart of the film that breaks me. 

In her pain, Lucie saw the monster, the fellow torture victim she had to leave behind.

In her pain, the unnamed victim sees cockroaches crawling all over her and burrowing under her skin.

In her pain, Anna sees Lucie. "I miss you," she says.

Instead of more pain, Anna gets some comfort near her end. It's beautiful, and it's the most any of us can hope for.


CREEPSHOW (1982, George A. Romero)


As I'm sure you've heard me say time and again, this movie is absolutely perfect, and I don't have the words to describe how much I love it. It is the best Halloween-time viewing. It is the best anthology movie. It is fun with a capital fun. There is not a story I would excise, there is not a story I simply tolerate to get to the others. They are all baller, and this EC comic come to life is gross and scary and, to use a word that all the youths use, a "hoot." The cast is pitch-perfect, playing it riiiiight on the line of campy. I will never, ever tire of dotty old Aunt Bedelia, of Leslie Nielsen in that velour track suit, of Sylvia Grantham's smoky-voiced scolding, of Upson Pratt being a right bastard, of everything, most especially Adrienne Barbeau as Wilma "Billie" Northrup. She is always a treasure, but here she is her most treasureful. I mean, she knows all the best stores. 


ZOMBIE (1979, Lucio Fulci)


Listen, like any rational human being I adore George Romero's Night, Dawn, and Day of the Dead. They are essential films not only to me, but to the horror genre. But while I was composing this here list, it came to be like a bolt out of the blue (or, perhaps, like a rotten hand out of the ground): holy shit. I fucking love Zombie

As I said, I adore Romero's work and he's the father of the zombie genre as we know it. But this absolutely disgusting Lucio Fulci film is my perfect zombie movie. There is none of that "the living are the real monsters" pontificating. There is no allegory. It is simply the dead come back to life, and as the movie's tagline says, they have one goal: we are going to eat you. That's all I need to be scared out of my mind!

I knew about this movie long before I ever saw it, thanks to ol' worm-eye's appearance on the cover of Fangoria. You know who ol' worm-eye is. This movie has iconic zombies, and they are all so gross. I love it. They are rotten and nasty and falling apart and full of worms. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I fucking love it when zombies claw their way out of the ground, and this movie gives me the goods a lot. I love that almost all of them have their eyes closed and move by instinct. I love that they move with the slowest shuffle--barely moving, so much so that they make Romero zombies look like Snyder zombies. But when they get close, suddenly they'll getcha just like that. I love the mystery of an abandoned ship and this movie gives me that. I love any score by Fabio Frizzi, but Zombie's title track might be my favorite. I love the long buildup, the journey our heroes undertake on their way to the voodoo-cursed island Matul intercut with the medical staff there trying to get a grasp on the plague killing residents and causing them to come back to life. I love the crazy-ass gore, and that eyeball scene--you know the one--is eye-conic (I'm sure that old Fangoria called it "eye-popping"). And I love that downer ending, with the undead shuffling over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, the world already lost to them. 

It's not just one sequence or one moment or one shot that unnerves me in this movie, it's everything. This is absolutely my absurd, illogical nightmare come to (un)life, and it makes me want to pull my covers up over my head. More than any other film on this list, I think (even Creepshow), Zombie makes me feel like a kid again.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991, Jonathan Demme)


Not that it matters, but I sometimes wonder if I would love The Silence of the Lambs--because love it I do--if Clarice Starling was played by anyone but Jodie Foster. I know other actresses have given it a go since, but thinking of the 1991 film, it seems inconceivable, doesn't it? Foster/Starling is such a beyond-perfect melding, or embodiment, or whatever you want to call it, that I can't imagine it being any other actress. Don't get me wrong, this film is obviously a gen-u-ine masterpiece from top to bottom and all the way around. (It was the third film in Oscar history to win the "big five," after all, if you put any stock in that sort of thing.) But I'm not sure it would land on my list of favorites without Foster, because Clarice Starling is the reason it's here. She is such a hero! She's such a hero she's virtually unmatched amongst other female characters. She's the personification of bravery, pushing on despite all of her fear. I love that she fucks up because despite her innate brilliance, she's still in training. Ugh, Clarice, perfect Clarice.

AGONY

PAIN

LOVE -- IT


SUSPIRIA  (2018, Luca Guadagnino)

This one should be no surprise to anyone who has spent one second or more (or less, let's be real) interacting with me. Believe it or not, I still have things to say about Suspiria, yes, even after four Gaylords of Darkness episodes about it (including, umm, that one where we talked about it with Luca Guadagnino and David Kajganich), even after I spent the entirety of last SHOCKtober talking about nothing but it. There is always more to say about this film that is woven into my DNA...but you have to wait for that more to say! I can't wait to say something about that more to say, but the time to say it is not now. *evil laugh*

 

THE FOG (1980, John Carpenter)

My favorite ghost story. Gimme that glowing fog rolling in and over the streets of Antonio Bay. Gimme every single one of Nancy Loomis's sarcastic "yes, ma'am"s. Gimme her and the rest of this incredible cast. Gimme the legend of the Elizabeth Dane. Gimme that classic John Carpenter score. Gimme a stomach pounder and a Coke! Gimme the terror of that slow, insistent rapping on Mrs. Kobritz's door. Gimme the glowing eyes of Captain Blake and his crew. Gimme the Stevie Wayne lifestyle, because there has never been and there will never be anyone cooler.


[REC] (2007, Jaume Balageró and Paco Plaza)

Ángela Vidal is second only to Clarice Starling in the horror movie heroine department for me,and in a just world she would have gotten out of that building, solved the pandemic plague possession curse thing, and gone on to win every Pulitzer Prize in history for her fearless reporting. This movie is the only found footage movie where "don't stop filming!" isn't just, like, a way for the audience to go "Oh, so that's why they haven't put the camera down." Here it's a journalist's ethos and battle cry! The government is lying to the residents of that unfortunate apartment building and essentially holding them all hostage, and Ángela Vidal is going to find out why, dammit, no matter the cost. I love her. And I love this movie. It's a found footage masterpiece if you ask me; I know there are sneaky edits in there, but so much of [REC] feels unedited, like we're actually watching this story unfold as it happens. The choreography as they go up and down that massive staircase and in and out of various apartments! Seamless. There are killer jump scares, lots of blood and formative sequences galore. How many other found footage horror movies have used the night vision and someone getting dragged away into the darkness bits of this film's closing moments? The Blair Witch Project may have brought found footage into mainstream horror, but [REC] stands right next to it as one of the most influential in terms of subgenre tropes. Once Ángela and the crew leave the fire station, this movie does not let up. It keeps building and building until we're in that attic, groping around in the dark...and when we finally see what's up there, hot damn. I still hold my breath every time. I love this movie so much.

 

FATAL FRAME (2014, Mari Asato)

I only saw this movie less than a week ago, but here it is regardless. That's how deeply this movie resonated with me. Today we dropped an episode about it on Gaylords of Darkness, where you can hear me really expound on it. Man, it just ticked so many boxes for me:

  • gothic overtones
  • J-horror
  • girlschool horror
  • it's based on a video game (WHAT? I KNOW)
  • it's so beautiful
  • it's so gay
  • it's directed by a woman
  • it made me emotional!
  • so many bitchin' sequences

If you listen to Gaylords, then you know that I'm currently vibing with J- and K-horror more than ever before right now. The melancholy that hangs over all of my favorites (like the entire Whispering Corridors series above!) is perfectly in tune with the melancholy that I feel as I isolate during this pandemic. They don't make me sadder, they are simply in tune with my current wavelength, and they are a comfort. Fatal Frame came out of nowhere and knocked me right out. I was expecting ghosts in a girls' school, and I got that. But I also got a touching story about friendship and love and rejecting the paths that society demands we follow. It's a gorgeous film, and I have absolutely no qualms about having it on my list despite the fact that it's been in my life for such a short time. It'll be around forever. Sometimes you just know, you know?

PHEW THAT'S IT, IT'S FINALLY DONE. Here are the other films that vied for a coveted spot: Hell Night (1981), Thelma (2017), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Shining (1980), Pulse (aka Kairo, 2001), Black Christmas (1974), The Ring (2002), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), The Thing (1982)