Stories For Ghosts

Horror for the Discerning Fan

Category: Film Review (page 1 of 3)

Revisiting a Slasher Classic on Friday the 13th

As a horror fan, I’m not fond of slasher films. But even I can’t deny the impact slashers have had on the genre. Like it or not, these films, often sparse on plot and heavy on gore and sex, have altered the course of horror movies, if not movies in general. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Black Christmas, and Scream are all slasher classics that have left an indelible mark on pop culture.

So of course, with today being Friday, July 13th, I had to revisit Friday the 13th.

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Father Knows Best – My Favorite Horror Films for Father’s Day

Let’s talk about what it means to be a father. In our culture, a father is supposed to be a protector, a provider, the person responsible for the physical, mental, and existential well-being of his family. While both mothers and fathers face conflicts regarding their individuality and the demands of having a family, their duties are wholly distinct.

In many horror movies, a mother’s fears are tied to her biological function and are restricted to her relationship with her children. The anxiety here is that a mother might lose her autonomy to her children, that she might selfishly betray the sacred bond between mother and child, or that she will fail as a mother and be subject to a multitude of punishments. I delve into a lot of these movies in my post about mothers in horror movies, which you can read here.

When it comes to fathers, horror movies seem divided into two camps. In the first, a father struggles to fulfill his obligations (whether he’s aware of this or not is left to the individual film), thereby putting his family at risk. It’s only through his re-dedication to idealized fatherhood that he can protect his family. In the second, a man rebukes his fatherhood and the responsibilities that come with it because he is the nefarious threat to his family. On the whole, his obligations are to both his children and his wife (heteronormative families rule the roost in horror movies so far), and his duties arise more from social code than biological function.

It’s with these thoughts in mind that I created this list of horror movies that examine fatherhood. In these films, fatherhood is the glue that holds the family together and allows the family unit to become the fundamental building block of communities, societies, and civilizations. Whether these fathers fail or succeed in living up to the standard has profound ramifications for his family, which reflects our deeply held fears about the stability of our society.

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The Unsettling, Profound Discomfort of Hereditary (2018)

After seeing Hereditary a few weeks ago, I left stunned, thinking that I hadn’t seen a horror film like Hereditary in a very long time. So much happened, much of it overwhelming in its emotional punch and terror. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I gave up trying to decipher things and instead just let memories of it come to me. It is one of the most genuinely horrific films I’ve seen recently. It’s also one of the most depressing films I’ve seen in a long time.

After weeks of not knowing how to write this review, I finally managed to lean into the film’s complexity. Hereditary is so good at unfolding itself, at managing what information it offers the audience and when. Not only does this model make for excellent slow burns, but it also mirrors the disintegration of the family as their first loss spirals into unimaginable horror. It is a tragic story, really, a film about a woman that unwittingly enables and fulfills her family’s nightmarish fate.

As far as horror movies go, Hereditary isn’t focused on entertainment, though I found the film entertaining in and of itself. No, Hereditary is more focused on using its story and characters to create a fundamentally unnerving experience. It explores how we are at our most vulnerable around our family members, and despite our fervent beliefs that we can ignore the scars and outrun the past, we can’t always. Continue reading

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Unsane and the Horror of Ignoring Women’s Stories

As a genre, horror is especially adept at taking advantage of film’s voyeuristic nature and creating an uncomfortable vicarious experience. And more than any genre, horror can hack apart an audience member’s conception of fear and flip it on its head. The genre can sow horror and terror where the was none, forcing the audience to see once benign situations in a more sinister light (or shadow).

Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane, a film rooted in a young woman’s experience of being imprisoned in a mental asylum with her stalker, does precisely this. Unsane forces its audience to confront a premise that is scary for anyone, but for women especially. The film uses the negative cultural stereotypes we have of women and mental health to craft a film that recreates in lurid digital detail the discomfort and fear every woman has faced at some point in her life. It is a waking nightmare, less a work of fiction and more a worst case scenario of what happens when a man won’t take no for an answer.

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The Silence Speaks Volumes in A Quiet Place

*Be Warned – Very Mild Spoilers for A Quiet Place*

I’ve always said that, for any medium, the key to creating a compelling narrative is developed characters. This is especially true in crafting exceptional horror movies, where the disturbing events unfolding on screen pack an intense punch not just because of their scariness but because of the risk they pose to characters the audiences cares about. Yeah, a novel concept, good pacing, and deft camera work contribute, but no one cares about any of that if the characters aren’t watchable.

This is especially true for A Quiet Place, which wisely uses its script and actors as the foundation upon which the whole movie is based. Its inventive concept, heart-pounding scenes, and swelling tension would have fallen flat without the work that went into the script and the acting. In doing so, A Quiet Place stakes a claim as the first exceptional horror movie of 2018. (I know that’s not saying much when compared to films like Winchester or The Strangers: Prey at Night, but the rest of 2018’s horror movie faces stiff competition.)

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Disappointing Film Review–The Strangers: Prey at Night

Early this week, I was invited to an advanced screening of The Strangers: Prey at Night. I was excited, mainly because I enjoyed 2008’s home invasion horror thriller The Strangers, back before I knew I was a horror fan. In fact, The Strangers was one of the movies that made me realize I did like horror movies after all, so it’s always had a special place in my cold, black heart.

However, The Strangers is far from a perfect movie. Upon watching it for the second time, I have wondered what it would have been like with better writing, among other things.

The news of a sequel ten years after the fact was exciting, if for no other reason than home invasion movies scare the crap out of me. There was a part of me that was curious to see if the sequel would improve upon the original’s shortcomings…or merely rehash the same old stuff.

Oh, but it was worse than that. The Strangers: Prey at Night was disappointing. I was not looking for a socially-conscious horror movie going into The Strangers, but dammit, I wanted an entertaining and skilled effort. And I don’t think that is too much to ask!

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Hounds of Love: One of the Best Horror Films of 2017

*Mild Spoilers for Hounds of Love*

Despite being a seasoned horror fan, there are a few subjects really scare me. Serial killer movies, for instance, make me profoundly uncomfortable and anxious. Such stories lack the supernatural and fantastical elements of other horror movies, which I often use to create a degree of psychological distance between myself and fear. But serial killers are real. They target real people. The only psychological distance I can use to insulate myself from this fear is the fact that a serial killer has not come after me thus far.

Despite being a tough movie to get through, I thought Hounds of Love was amazing. I think it’s one of the best horror films of the year for both filmmaking technique as well as its exploration of female identity in a male-dominated context. Hounds of Love finds unexpected resonance not because of its male serial killer, but because of his female accomplice.

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It (2017) Review – A Good Effort, But Not a Home Run

*Mild Spoilers for It**

I’ve known about It for as long as I can remember. It was that massive brick of book that sat on the shelf at the public library, daring me to secretly check it out and sneak it home, where I could read it under the covers at night. It was also that early 90s TV movie starring Tim Curry that my parents wouldn’t let me see, and that I didn’t see until I watched it during a slumber party.  Growing up, It was the epitome of horror, not only because of the scary clown, but because children were the target of his evil, and It was not afraid to depict child murder.

It really went there, and many 90s kids won’t forget it. Many of us flocked to movie theaters last weekend and forked over cash to see the latest adaptation of It. I, for one, was almost giddy with excitement. I wanted to be scared sh*tless. I wanted to recapture some of the terror I felt reading the novel. I’ve grown up, but I still remember the exquisite and sickening pain of growing up, of realizing the evil in the world.

But this adaptation didn’t make me feel that.

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Alien: Covenant Review – The Michael Fassbender Show

I won’t lie, I was ready to be disappointed by Alien: Covenant.

When I finally walked into it, I did so with low expectations and gratitude that my ticket was free. An ardent fan of both Alien and Aliens, I’m still sore about how disappointing Prometheus turned out to be. I was hopeful that Alien: Covenant would be different, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath. I thought I’d learned my lesson about managing expectations.

So imagine my surprise and delight when Alien: Covenant turned out to be thrilling, scary, and downright thoughtful. Alien: Covenant, thankfully, broke new ground instead of rehashing Prometheus and took meaningful steps towards giving us the same kind of gruesome and disturbing space horror epics we all know and love.

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Raw Film Review: Julia Ducournau’s Voracious Triumph

*Beware: Here be mild spoilers for Raw*

During my time blogging about all things horror, I’ve found that most serious horror fans by and large stick to their favorite horror subgenres. They may only dapple in other subgenres, occasionally dipping a toe into art horror or zombie flicks, but not often. I do this. I love moody, tense psychological horror, ghost stories, and taut thrillers with elegant displays of horrific violence. Slashers? Not really my thing. The Saw movies? Ehhh, pass. And body horror? Definitely not my thing.

For some reason, body horror is particularly challenging for me. Thus, I avoid it. This isn’t to say that I think body horror is bad or uncouth or less capable of artistic potential. I accept the importance of body horror as a subgenre that is, at times, most-equipped to explore themes like mortality, physical weakness, aging and disease, over-population, and the disconnect between our mental power and our bodily strength. After all, body horror is the most universal kind of horror, since everyone is stuck in a decaying body and marches through a field of pain and pleasure towards death.

There are times when even I can’t look away from a well-done, brilliant body horror film, when even I have to admit that I really, really liked it.

This is how I felt about Raw, a 2016 French-Belgian cannibalism and coming of age horror film that made waves at Cannes last year and was finally released stateside a few weeks ago.

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