When I saw the trailer for Pet Sematary (2019), with John Lithgow as Jud Crandall, I felt excited. I’m usually skeptical of remakes, but since I liked the remake of IT (2017) with Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the clown, I’m kind of hopeful for upcoming horror remakes. And then it occurred to me: I hadn’t read the book. I’d seen the 1989 film more than 20 times – sometimes just playing it in the background at home while I did chores. I really like the movie, but I didn’t know what I was missing until I soaked up the novel.
In case you don’t know, Pet Sematary is a story about the Creed family, who moves to Ludlow, Maine, and into a house beside the town’s pet cemetery (misspelled “Sematary” by local children who made the sign). Strange things occur as Louis Creed discovers what lies beyond the Pet Sematary – breaking his grip on sanity and morality.
I had some traveling ahead of me, and I wanted to make sure I read the book before the remake hit theaters. So the night before I headed off to Austin, Texas, for SXSW, I kicked off the Pet Sematary audiobook on my way. As soon as I began the audiobook, I was hooked. I listened during my drive. When I stopped for gas, I didn’t linger so I could finish the next chapter. After a few hours, when I rolled into Austin, I could already tell there were differences between the novel and the 1989 film. But I turned off the audiobook and began live-music-binging.
With the plethora of fantastic horror available right now, it’s a great time to be a horror fan. Not only are horror movies getting better and better, told from a variety of viewpoints and with tons of cool new stories, but television is also experiencing a horror renaissance. And y’all, there are just too many options to choose from.
It all started with the premiere of What We Do In The Shadows this past week, which got me thinking–what other cool new 2019 horror TV shows have come out or are coming out soon?
This year, SXSW was a hotbed of buzzworthy horror movies, many from first-time directors. That’s one of my favorite things about film festivals—new voices and diverse viewpoints are given their time in the spotlight, and we’re all the better for it. This is especially true for horror, which benefits drastically from creative, fresh voices. After all, the same old shit can’t be relied upon to continually explore our fears, and filmmakers shouldn’t try.
Of the horror-comedy films at SXSW, Extra Ordinary was my favorite. Though it wasn’t without flaws, it was a confident debut for its first-time directors. It was an original horror-comedy with a distinctly Irish flair. It is also the most adorable horror-comedy I’ve ever seen, and I enjoyed it immensely. Who knew that sacrificing virgins and exorcizing ghosts could be so uproarious and charming?
I find that one of the most appealing aspects of the horror genre is its versatility. You can have horror films set in a time and a place that we may never see, that we think we know everything about, that we live in currently. Because fear is a condition of the human experience, horror creeps into everything. It persists no matter the time or place, lurking behind scraggly trees, crawls between the thin walls of a dilapidated house, and stares back us from the faces of our loved ones.
Them That Follow, which recently enjoyed its Texas premiere at the SXSW Film Festival, exemplifies that same kind of quiet, inescapable horror. It’s the kind of scary movie that isn’t interested in crescendos of blood and agony. Instead, Them That Follow focuses on more abstract questions about the personal beliefs and instincts that anchor our lives, the questioning of which leads to quiet but crushing moments of horror.
Want more SXSW horror besides Little Monsters? Check out my SXSW 2019 Horror Lineup post.
The zombie horror-comedy is so popular that it’s nearly a separate horror sub-genre. Films like Dead Alive, Shaun of the dead, and Zombieland have shown just how fun and raucous a zombie film can be without skimping on the gory set pieces we all love. But not all zombie comedies meet the mark. To be successful, a zombie horror-comedy must command two separate films in one, and as such, must strike a balance between the gravity of a zombie outbreak while creating relatable, funny characters.
At first, Little Monsters might seem like too risky a premise to strike that balance. Set in present-day Australia, Little Monsters follows Dave (Alexander England), who is crashing on his sister’s couch after his life craters. When he’s not smoking weed, he’s watching his adorable 5-year old nephew, Felix (Diesel La Torraca). Once Dave meets Felix’s lovely kindergarten teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), he decides to pursue her by volunteering to chaperone the class’s field trip to a local petting zoo. Little do they know that the American army base next door to the petting zoo has been secretly conducting zombie experiments (naturally). The zombies escape, of course, and Dave and Ms. Caroline find themselves responsible for the lives of eight adorable, innocent, precocious kindergarteners. And if that wasn’t enough, they must also contend with Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), a highly annoying kids’ entertainer who shows his true sleazeball colors once shit goes down.
Adapting movies into television shows is always tricky
business. Just as with film remakes, television adaptations face a host of problems
from struggling to expand the scope of the original to failing to honor the
spirit of the source material. For every Westworld,
there are countless series that tried to adapt the likes of Blade or Taken. These series often fail to capture the spark of their
inspiration, either by neglecting to involve the original creative team or by
rushing production and failing to put forth a quality product.
However, judging by the pilot episode, FX’s What We Do in the Shadows series will succeed on both these fronts. Not only does the pilot capture the original film’s quirky and beloved sense of humor, but it also builds a firm foundation for what should be an entertaining and creative exploration beyond the original.
When it comes to genre and big-name film festivals, the South By Southwest (a.k.a. SXSW) Film Festival has always been eager to showcase horror movies. This acceptance of horror isn’t surprising considering how committed SXSW is to feature “genre standouts” and “celebrate raw innovation and emerging talent from both behind and in front of the camera.” Overall, films shown at SXSW cut across a wide range of genres, tones, and influences, often encapsulating Sci-fi/Horror, fantasy, intimate dramedies, high-profile comedies, and everything in between.
Essentially, SXSW is a really fun film festival, with way more audience favorites and diverse voices than some of the more prestigious festivals. The festival purposefully cultivates a certain rebellious spirit and often screens films that are both smart and crowd-pleasing, accessible yet weird enough to be worthy of the host city (Keep Austin weird!). Notable horror titles from past SXSW festivals include The Return Of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blade 2, the original Cabin Fever, The Cabin in the Woods, Insidious, Penny Dreadful, Creep, The Invitation, Ex Machina, A Quiet Place, and Hereditary.
So yeah, horror fans should definitely pay attention to what comes out of SXSW.
Not only does this year’s slate look as impressive as ever, but Stories For Ghosts will also attend SXSW in person to cover as many horror films and TV pilots as possible! I can’t wait! No longer will I have to admire the festival from afar, as I did in 2017 and 2018. I’ll get to be on the ground, soaking up everything from Jordan Peele’s latest horror movie Us, to AMC’s new horror series NOS4A2 (based on Joe Hill’s novel, to indie films like Them That Follow and Darlin’. I feel like a goth kid in a Hot Topic all by myself with my mom’s American Express.