Stories For Ghosts

Horror for the Discerning Fan

Category: folklore (page 1 of 4)

5 Mexican Horror Movies for Cinco De Mayo!

Happy Cinco de Mayo! In honor of Cinco de Mayo and Mexico’s unique artistic contributions to horror films, I’ve compiled a list of five awesome Mexican horror movies!

But before I get into the horror movies, let’s talk about the history behind Cinco de May. In case you didn’t know, May 5, 2018, is the 156th anniversary of the Mexican Army’s defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Long story short, Napoleon III wanted to take advantage of Mexico’s financially weakened position at the time and force Mexico to be a “dependent empire” to benefit French interests. Of course, Mexico was not having it, and they put up a fight. After France gained the early advantage, Mexico rallied and secured a massive victory, both strategically and morally, since the French soldiers were vastly better equipped and outnumbered the Mexicans 2 to 1.

So, just remember that when you’re throwing back margaritas and watching horror movies. These Mexican horror movies are scary, intense, and creative, combining elements of ghost stories, exploitation, and the magical realism for which Mexican horror is known.

Cheers!

mexican horror

El Espejo de la Bruja (1962) (The Witch’s Mirror)

In El Espejo de la Bruja, a witch schemes to avenge the murder of goddaughter at the hands of her husband, who then wastes no time in remarrying a clueless woman. And it doesn’t stop with the death of one woman—this film trades in dead women, which is interesting considering who the murderer is. The film creates a successful mix of classic gothic tropes, borrowing everything from Rebecca to Edgar Allan Poe to Eyes Without a Face. As a result, El Espejo de la Bruja is a moody, atmospheric horror film with sinister visuals, schlocky plot developments, and scares of varying effectiveness.

mexican horror

Alucarda (1977)

Alucarda, directed by Mexican horror director Juan Lopez Moctezuma, is a retelling of the classic gothic horror novella Carmilla. Alucarda (say it backward), an orphaned teenage girl with frightening powers who lives at a convent, strikes up a very close relationship with the new girl at the convent. Eventually, they form a blood pact with each other and start practicing black magic and get into all sorts of bloody, nude trouble. Alucarda tackles issues of sexual repression and Catholicism, but the film is focused on creating a crazy viewing experience with a ton of gore and nudity.

mexican horror

Santa Sangre (1989)

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a pioneer of avant-garde and surreal film. This Chilean-French director is particularly known for films like El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and his failed attempt to film a 14-hour film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. He also directed the Mexican surrealist horror film Santa Sangre.

Santa Sangre is…a lot to take in. It’s the somber story of a woman who, horrifically abused and mutilated as a young woman, perpetuates psychological and emotion control over her son. This woman, Concha, though armless, can control her son’s hands and force him to murder the women who compete for his attention. It’s surreal and violent and archetypal and horrifying, overflowing with images that will haunt you for a long time.

mexican horror

Cronos (really, any of Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish language films) (1993)

Guillermo del Toro has achieved massive success in the United States, culminating with his recent Oscar win for Best Director for The Shape of Water. Before he was raking in the accolades for his English language films, del Toro was a talented young director writing and directing Spanish-Language films.

His very first Mexican feature film, Cronos, was released in 1993 and has all the elements that would become part of his signature brand of storytelling. In Cronos, del Toro breathed new life into vampire mythology with the story of an elderly antique dealer who stumbles upon an otherworldly device that bestows eternal life on its owners for one small price—becoming a blood-sucking vampire. Little does he know the significance of the object and what other more powerful men want with it. Del Toro combines the classic tropes of vampire tales with his own affinities for Mexican magical realism, dark fairy tales, and the religious questions we dare not ask ourselves.

mexican horror

We Are What We Are (2010)

Did you know that 2013’s critically acclaimed We Are What We Are is a remake of a Mexican horror film? The plot is the same—the patriarch of a cannibal family dies unexpectedly and leaves his family struggling to continue their, um, lifestyle. It’s a very gruesome, disturbing film, one that explores suppressed sexualities, stifled anger, shared shame, dysfunctional family dynamics, corruption of officials, and socio-economic hierarchies. It’s a compelling family drama and grisly horror film rolled up together.

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Crack Open a Shiner and Settle In – It’s Time for SXSW Horror Movies!

Festival season continues with the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, which means there are new (and, hopefully, fresh) horror movies for us to peruse!

2018 marks the 25th year of the SXSW film festival. Just think of it–25 years of a fearless and unflinching commitment to emerging voices, diverse viewpoints, and plain crazy schemes that translate into memorable films! SXSW is known for its commitment to pushing the envelope of the film industry, and the horror industry knows this.

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A Survey of Foreign Horror Films – Oceania

I’m making solid progress on my global tour of foreign horror movies! Next stop: Oceania!

I’ve devoted my last few posts to educate myself (and my readers) about foreign horror, of which I now realize I knew *almost* nothing about. Not all the foreign horror is confined to countries like Great Britain, France, Japan, Canada, or Mexico, right?

Luckily for me, the ongoing Winter Olympics inspired me to research foreign horror the world over.

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A Survey of Foreign Horror Films – Africa

As I admitted in my last post, I do not have a strong foreign horror game.  Of course, I’ve seen a ton of foreign horror films from countries like Great Britain, France, Japan, Canada, and Mexico, and more than a handful of foreign horror films from countries scattered all over the world, but I remain woefully ignorant of the global body of foreign horror.

This is something that I need to fix. And I figured that the Olympics would be the perfect time to educate myself.

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A Survey of Foreign Horror Films – Asia

I’ll admit, I’m not as informed about foreign horror films as I should be. For all my talk about seeing the horror genre as a window into the anxieties and fears of a culture, I’m dreadfully ignorant of many foreign horror traditions.

I felt even worse about my lack of awareness for horror films because of the Olympics. All these unique countries coming together in the spirit of peaceful competition, all those athletes sharing their gifts with the world? It’s beautiful and moving. We learn so much about each other from this magnificent event and put aside our differences to exalt the best of us together.

I freaking love the Olympics!

Consequently, with the 2018 Winter Olympics taking over television and the internet, I thought this was a perfect time for me to do some research about foreign horror films across the globe. And I found a lot of cool stuff.

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My Favorite Beautiful Horror Films – Part 2

As a horror fan, I live and die for visually striking, beautiful horror films. It doesn’t matter what subgenre of horror it is or how gory it is—I love beautiful horror. The more provocative, the better. I can’t look away from a film like Suspiria or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I wouldn’t even if I could because I love the delicious contrast between watching something scary when it’s in a bold, ornate, artistic cinematic language.

Many horror films don’t bother with a strong, unifying visual concepts, so I find it refreshing when a film achieves a distinct cinematic style and tone. It’s even better when that distinct cinematic style transforms the horrors on screen into something gorgeous and compelling.

A beautiful horror film is special. A keen grasp of color and form and composition add layers of understanding to the story. An inspired eye deepens my apprehension, heightens my terror, and distills my horrific realizations into an unforgettable viewing experience. A beautiful horror film makes me wish I’d taken more film classes in college.A beautiful horror film scratches its way into my brain where it makes a permanent home.

A little while ago, I shared a list of my favorite beautiful horror films. The list included classic horror films with almost universally praised aesthetics, like The Shining or Let the Right One In. Lately, I’ve decided the time has come to publish an additional list including more of those visually magnificent films I love so much.

For this list, I’ve put together an eclectic group of beautiful horror films ranging from a noir-inspired B-movie to a French horror classic to last year’s prettiest and most disappointing movie. Here they are, in chronological order, resplendent and unsettling.

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12 of My Fave Modern Horror Novels For Spooky Reading

One of my personal favorite parts about Halloween is that my friends and family really like to get into the spooky spirit. I am always in a spooky mood, and it brings my cold black heart joy to see my loved ones come visit me over here on the dark side. They ask me for recommendations for movies, TV shows, and books, the latter of which I absolutely love to give since I am a huge lit nerd.

I’ve done this before in my Classic Spooky Read post from last Halloween. If you are interested in picking up am iconic horror masterpiece like Frankenstein, or Dracula, or The Haunting of Hill House, now is the perfect time! But if you want something newer, a little fresher and more contemporary, then you should check out my list of 12 modern horror novel favorites.

Enjoy!

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13 of the Creepiest, Most Disturbing Lore Episodes

Today is Friday the 13th, which makes it a perfect release date for Amazon’s new series, Lore. This new anthology series is directly inspired by Lore, an awesome and exquisitely researched podcast started by novelist Aaron Mahnke.

And I could not be more excited. Lore is one of my favorite podcasts.

As a podcast, Lore retells old legends, myths, and real-life ghost stories from America and Europe, but these aren’t your average campfire takes. Mahnke is a wonderful storyteller who carefully researches and questions the stories he tells, all of which weaves a stunning picture of human nature. You may have heard stories of the Moth Man or the Jersey Devil or Elizabeth Bathory, but never like this. And Amazon’s new series continues this tradition by adapting Mahnke’s podcast episodes for the small screen.

In honor of the new series, I wanted to share my 13 favorite Lore episodes with you. It was no small task to narrow down the 70 (and counting!) episodes to 13, so I had to make some hard choices. I hope you enjoy them!

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How the Ouija Board Went from Family Pastime to Demonic Threat

For my childhood, “occult” games were a staple. During recess, we used origami fortune tellers and other strange little rituals to divine our futures. My friends and I loved to play light as a feather, stiff as a board at sleepovers and camp. And we played with Ouija boards, asking the spirits to tell us our futures and answer all the inane questions a preteen girl might ask. We had even learned how to make Ouija boards out of construction paper and markers, just in case an actual board wasn’t available.

Most of us didn’t believe that Ouija boards worked and certainly didn’t believe that a spirit could lash out from the board. We accused each other of manipulating the planchette. We also had great fun scaring each other with scary stories. It wasn’t real, but that didn’t stop us from always observing proper Ouija board etiquette. Never use the board alone. Delegate one person to ask questions so as not to confuse the spirit. Be polite. Always be sure to say hello and goodbye to properly “close” the board. And if shit gets weird, throw salt on the board (or rip it up, should you be using a paper board).

It was a fun trick to feel like we’d gotten deliciously close to something mysterious and supernatural, like telling ghost stories and shivering by the campfire. Nothing more.

Thus, I’m always surprised when I hear that someone is genuinely wary of Ouija boards. It doesn’t seem to make sense that otherwise rational people would vehemently insist that Ouija boards are evil and dangerous. “Why would you mess with that?” they ask? “You’re just asking for trouble.”

I always disagree, explaining that it’s just a game. A really good example of how the ideometer effect works. It’s just a silly, thrilling way to probe the darkness of our obscured subconscious but in a way that’s easy for children to grasp. If God wanted me to become possessed, I would insist, it would happen regardless of any Ouija board.

Still, the Ouija board’s drastic and unwieldy power looms large in the minds of many. It has a uniquely America history. It’s a mainstay of the American obsession with the occult. We love a spectacle, especially if it’s a little scary, bringing us close enough to see a faint glimmer of what we’ve long suspected to be true. A part of us wants to touch the other side and another part of us wants to be convinced that it’s just a game. But America also loves to shake its fingers at things it doesn’t understand, as many conservative Christians swear that Ouija boards should be avoided as un-Christian.

How did we get here? How did a game become regarded as a beacon for the demon world?

In case you didn’t know, a Ouija board is a wooden board inscribed with the alphabet, numbers, “Yes,” “No,” and “Goodbye.” It comes with a heart-shaped planchette that the spirits use to “communicate” by moving over the board and resting on letters and numbers. It’s a variation of the talking board and automatic writing, which have been used by human beings for centuries.

While talking boards and automatic writing are nothing new, the Ouija board is an American invention. The Ouija board rose in popularity due to the American Spiritualism movement, which exploded onto the scene in 1848. The meteoric rise of the Fox Sisters launched the movement as the first celebrity mediums. They claimed to have communicated with spirits through a series of knocks and rappings in their parents’ farmhouse. They took their unique talents on the road, touring America and Europe and holding impressive séances in front of paying audiences. Soon, Spiritualism had gripped the country. In an era where the average lifespan was less than 50 years (if you survived childhood, disease, childbirth, and war), the opportunity to commune with deceased loved ones was irresistible. People of all walks of life engaged in these practices and spent vast amounts of money. Even First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln held séances in the White House in an effort to contact her son, who had died at the age of eleven.

After the Civil War, during which mediums and spiritualists experienced a boom in business, mediums made an effort to streamline the séance. The ritual could drag on for hours and get boring as mediums deciphered the rappings and spirit writings. Talking boards were easier, less complicated, and they could be used by almost anyone.

America’s industrious businessmen saw an opportunity, recognizing that talking boards could be packaged and marketed in such a way that grieving Americans could cut out the middleman and literally circumvent mediums. In 1890, Charles Kennard, a Baltimore businessman, founded the Kennard Novelty Company and set about to become the exclusive mass-producer of talking boards for the American public. Armed with an eerie name and an aura of mystique, Kennard secured a patent from the US Patent Office for his Ouija boards. Legend has it that Kennard was able to “prove” the board worked by correctly answering personal questions about the patent officer working at the time, which scared the patent office and secured the patent. Whether or not you believe that story, the point is that Kennard was able to scare the hell out of the poor patent officer, paving the way for the Kennard Novelty Company to make a fortune selling Ouija boards.

 

After that, the Kennard Novelty Company marketed the Ouija board as an otherworldly oracle, capable of allowing the user to divine the secrets of the spirit world. But they also marketed it as a wholesome family fun, because who wouldn’t want to have a delightful time together trying to summon Grandma? Notably, the Ouija board was most popular during hard times, when war, disease, and cultural upheaval dominated headlines. Historian Robert Murch explained, in an interview with Smithsonian Museum, that many people used the board to affirm their deepest wishes for an afterlife. “People want to believe,” he said. “The need to believe that something else is out there is powerful. [The Ouija board] is one of those things that allows them to express that belief.”

And so, the Ouija board became culturally ubiquitous. Writers boasted about using Ouija boards to “dictate” whole novels written by spirits. It was featured in episodes of I Love Lucy and Bewitched as well as in films like The Uninvited and 13 Ghosts. Norman Rockwell used it in one of his iconic pictures for the Saturday Evening Post. In 1967, the board outsold monopoly. While some sensational news stories linked the board to depraved murders and tales of insanity, the vast majority of people did not feel threatened by Ouija boards. At the very most, it was a tool. At the very least, it was a game.

Until The Exorcist came along.

In a pivotal scene in the film, Regan MacNeil shows her mother how she uses an Ouija board to communicate with a spirit named Captain Howdy. Things seem innocent at first, and while the film never explicitly links her use of the Ouija board to her demonic possession, the implications are clear that a demon took advantage of the board to lie to Regan, gain her trust, and ultimately possess her.

Audiences flipped. Not only was the movie terrifying as a whole, but the Ouija board scene proved especially controversial. Religious groups were quick to denounce Ouija boards as a dangerous tool of the devil. (Interestingly, the Catholic Church supported the film and provided consulting behind the scenes.)

“It’s kind of like Psycho,” explained Murch. “No one was afraid of showers until that scene… It’s a clear line.”

After The Exorcist, Ouija boards were transformed from a radio for the dead to a portal through which Satan could drag children into torment and damnation. Numerous religious authorities and publications warned against using Ouija boards (along with fortune telling and horoscopes), claiming that Ouija boards were an affront to God. Religious leaders like Billy Graham warned that Ouija boards would not only lead the faithful away from God but into entanglements with Satan.  Pat Roberts said that “Demons can control a Ouija board, and you begin to deal with the occult, that’s who you’re dealing with. You’re not dealing with Jesus, you’re not dealing with God, you’re dealing with demonic.”

While it’s weird to me that Pat Roberts gets his knowledge of demonic possession from horror movies, it’s not surprising. After The Exorcist, horror writers and directors everywhere started using the Ouija board as a convenient plot device. It became a nationally recognized symbol for a reckless tool that even the best mediums could not control. Movies like the Witchboard series, The Craft, What Lies Beneath, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the Paranormal Activity series, The Conjuring 2, and the Ouija series all feature Ouija boards, adding to the status of the board as a dangerous device vulnerable to demonic interference.

ouija

Presently, the Ouija board is used more for the thrill of the unknown than for spiritual purposes. It is still very popular, experiencing a bump in sales from the release of Ouija. And the board still has its detractors, with numerous religious groups speaking out against it. In 2001, a New Mexico church burned Ouija boards alongside Harry Potter books.

Real or not, Ouija boards are here to stay. Personally, I think the enduring draw of the Ouija board is significant and natural. The board is some of the most concrete evidence we have showing how we create our own scary stories. We invent the monsters. We summon the ghosts. We find our fears spelled out underneath the planchette’s window. We have become so distanced from death that we fear it now, and Ouija boards reflect that. This game, this spooky little ritual, allows us to find answers hidden deep within our psyches. Even if you have never used a Ouija board, your conception of the board says a lot about you without you having to ever ask the board a question.

Just because we don’t like the answers doesn’t mean we should stop asking questions.

 

List of sources:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

 

 

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The Very Long List of New Horror at Fantastic Fest 2017

Fantastic Fest 2017 is here! Finally!a

Fantastic Fest is the largest film festival specializing in genre films, which basically means it focuses a lot more on sci-fi, horror, fantasy, action, and generally fun and weird movies. Fantastic Fest may not be a critical darling like Cannes, Venice, or Sundance, but it has a proven track record of showcasing crowd-pleasers and groundbreaking genre films. It usually picks up where TIFF leaves off, pushing the envelope even farther with non-horror movies like There Will Be BloodRed, and John Wick.

These are the kinds of movies that really make you feel something, whether that’s a vicarious blood lust, a sense of wonder, squealing terror, or outright uncomfortable confusion. Fantastic Fest is always interesting and has something for every type of horror fan.

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