Hey Internet! Susie here! Please welcome Chris Shea, the newest Contributing Writer here at Stories for Ghosts! Chris is a Producer, Production Manager, Assistant Director, and Director based in Austin, Texas. He has so much filmmaking expertise, and I’m very excited to have him write for the blog! Enjoy his first piece!
***Note: Mild spoilers for Wounds***
Wounds opens and closes with the same image shown on screen to its audience. It’s dark, reminiscent of an H.P. Lovecraft novel, and it’s the driving force behind the film’s antagonist. The image, which seems more like a place, is a harbinger, a warning of the evils to come and possibly a commentary on our ever-present proximity to evil.
*Warning: Some Spoilers for Suspiria*
When I walked out of the theater after watching Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know if I liked the movie or if I hated it. Oh sure, there was plenty of horrific elements and beautiful dance scenes and provocative imagery, but did I enjoy it? Was it a good movie?
And then I realized that I felt the same way after watching Dario Argento’s original Suspiria. I had to laugh. Even though the remake of Suspiria is a wholly independent film that stands on its own, it reminded me of the original in more than one way. Beyond the purposefully muted visual palate, the expanded plot, and the exploration of themes, Guadagnino’s Suspiria creates a similarly enigmatic and overwhelming horror film that compliments Argento’s work.
Every once in a while, a horror movie comes along that blows away audiences and critics alike. These films are nearly flawless, making perfect use of scares, genre conventions, plotting, character development, cinematography, and score to weave a bewitching triumph of filmmaking that both expands and transcends the genre.
Unfortunately, Netflixs’s Apostle is not one of these films. But damn, I had fun watching it!
Inspired by British religious horror classics The Wicker Man and The Devils, Apostle admirably bites off more than it can chew. Ambitious and thoughtful, it is a gory, thrilling film that needed more space to breathe to achieve horror greatness.
I get into a lot of spoilers here, so be warned. But that shouldn’t stop you from checking out Apostle.
***Warning! Spoilers for Halloween (2018)***
It’s a rare thing to see a horror movie sequel that expands upon and develops the source material in an exciting, worthwhile way. It’s even more unusual and unexpected for a film with as storied a following as John Carpenter’s Halloween. A groundbreaking film that spawned a stream of uninspired sequels, the original Halloween finally has a sequel worthy of its legacy in the latest Halloween film, from Blumhouse Productions.
This horror fan enjoyed the film immensely because it did much more than pay fan service to horror legend. Halloween (2018) dove deep into the genre in a way that slashers rarely do. Sure, it’s got the body count, jump scares, and genre conventions of a slasher (along with some clever role reversals and callbacks), but Halloween will be remembered as a meta-slasher.
40 years after the events of John Carpenter’s Halloween, Laurie Strode, the only survivor of that fateful night, is convinced that Michael Myers will come for her again. Between not treating her PTSD and struggling to live a functional life, Laurie has become a hardcore survivalist. But she’s lost a lot in the process. She has a strained relationship with her family—daughter Karen, son-in-law Ray, and granddaughter Allyson. She is a recovering alcoholic. She doesn’t seem happy at all. But at least she knows that when Michael Myers returns, she’ll be ready for him.
And sure enough, Michael Myers escapes from state custody the night before Halloween. He hasn’t forgotten about Laurie either, and he will stop at nothing before he finds her and kills her. After all, she’s literally the one that got away.
The horror genre is littered with controversial films, films that inspired censorship and protests and extreme backlash. While controversy is certainly good for box office takes, it’s not always good for the critical interpretation of a film. Horror fans, especially, know that controversy does not always merit the backlash our favorite genre films receive. A violent or unsettling or difficult movie doesn’t mean it’s bad—sometimes, it means that the film has done its job.
Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero’s 1968 black-and-white exploitation classic, is one such film. What modern audiences see as an undisputed but perhaps dated work of essential horror, contemporary audiences were shocked and appalled by Night of the Living Dead. It was violent! It was gory! It tested the very boundaries of decency!
Despite its critical success, the movie simply did not deserve to exist, according to some critics. As the Variety review put it, “Until the Supreme Court establishes clear-cut guidelines for the pornography of violence, Night of the Living Dead will serve nicely as an outer-limit definition by example.”
But it’s precisely because of those outer-limits that films like Night of the Living Dead are essential. They ask us to question art, to question the way we tell stories. They force us to consider uncomfortable implications of what we’re seeing onscreen. In short, they ask what deserves to be committed to film and why.
I rail a lot against bad horror movies, the kind that are excuses to inflict a lot of violence, gore, and bad writing on audiences. As a horror fan, I wish to hold the genre to a certain standard of storytelling because the genre has so much to offer. But I’m realistic, and if a horror movie doesn’t live up to those standards (or even try), all I ask is that it’s at least entertaining. There’s nothing worse than a boring horror movie that tries way too hard.
However, I must confess that I have my own horror guilty pleasures. These are films that I acknowledge are poorly made movies with a laundry list of flaws. Yet somehow, I love them. I watch them over and over.
And my favorite horror guilty pleasure is 2003’s action-horror classic Underworld.
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.
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.
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
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.