release of Midsommar, Ari Aster’s
follow-up feature to last year’s Hereditary,
folk horror is enjoying much deserved time in the spotlight. While the niche
horror subgenre is known to many a horror fan (folk horror is one of my
favorite subgenres), many curious viewers are at a loss when it comes to folk
horror. What is it exactly?
Of course, as many folk horror fans will try to explain, the subgenre is difficult to pin down. Some consider it a subset of religious horror, and while I see and respect that viewpoint, I don’t necessarily agree with that. The two subgenres are related; I see them as distinct. Perhaps folk horror and religious horror are sisters. They both explore man’s fear of his beliefs, of one’s faith being tested, and of watching religion corrupt its practitioners. But folk horror has a particular flavor, a certain aesthetic, which religious horror does not replicate.
their nature, are weird.
about it—they’re (often) miniature representations of people meant to be played
with. They’re inanimate objects. With another person or an animal, there’s an
exchange, an actual relationship of some kind. But with a doll, there’s nothing
inside the doll to interact with. Yet we design them specifically to encourage that
interaction. In fact, we craft dolls specifically to invite children and adults
alike to construct identities for their dolls, to feel like there’s some kind
of relationship there. Because dolls demand that the person invent a
personality for the doll, a narrative for the doll, a ghost of a person to live
within the doll.
That’s weird, right?
(To read my past coverage of Cannes, see my 2016, 2017, and 2018 posts.)
One of the more exciting trends in horror over the last few years has been the proliferation of horror movies making splash debuts at renowned film festivals. Horror has been defying expectations and proving the genre haters wrong by showing up and showing out at festivals like Sundance and SXSW. Even genre festivals like Fantastic Fest and Frightfest have increased their profiles to become hotly anticipated in horror and non-horror circles alike.
as a horror fan, I feel like it’s about damn time. Many critics and filmmakers
have turned their noses up to horror, so it’s nice to see the industry not only
embrace horror but start to experiment with how the genre can tell compelling
Cue the Cannes Film Festival, arguably the glitziest and most buzzworthy film festival in the world. In years past, horror films like Evil Dead 2, Pan’s Labyrinth, Train to Busan, and The Neon Demon. have garnered much attention and acclaim at Cannes. Additionally, Cannes serves as an important marketplace and networking nexus for filmmakers looking to secure additional funding or distribution for their horror films. Such attention helps the whole genre do better, which is why I catalog the horror films showing at both the Cannes film festival and the Marché du Film (Cannes’ Film Market) every year.
year’s Cannes festival doesn’t have as much horror as I would like to see
(there’s never enough horror as far as I’m concerned). It’s disappointing that
there aren’t more horror films at Cannes, but rest assured, those that will
screen are ones to watch. This small but strong group of horror films promises
to offer audiences a lot more than the same old tired remakes and half-assed
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.
What is it about the spooky, provocative short story that moves us so? Whether it’s listening to the big kids recount ghost stories around a campfire or reading creepypastas under the covers in the middle of the night, we cannot resist the pull of eerie, enigmatic stories that linger long after they’ve finished imparting their lessons.
Personally, I’ve been fascinated and transfixed by these kinds of stories my whole life. Ghost stories, urban legends, local folklore, internet nightmares–I love all of them. And one of the reasons why I love them so much is due, in large part, to watching The Twilight Zone with my grandmother.
Before I could really understand what I was seeing, I remember visiting my grandparents’ house and watching episodes of the Twilight Zone on what was once The Sci-Fi Channel. My grandmother, who was a loving and fun grandma, was also a well-mannered and restrained woman who never had a messy house and just wasn’t a fan of dark fiction, be it books or movies tv shows. (Assuming that it was a hard-hitting period piece or something, she and my grandfather once walked out of a screening of Men in Black. Another time, I made her watch X-Men with me, and she told me in that it was the worst movie she’d ever seen.) I wasn’t allowed to watch certain movies or TV shows because they were “unpleasant” or “inappropriate.” But for some reason, she didn’t mind The Twilight Zone, and she let me watch them. Sometimes, she watched them with me.
Editor’s Note: Greetings, dear reader! I am so excited to introduce Stories For Ghosts’ latest contributing writer, David Tobin! David is a longtime horror fan, especially when it comes to horror literature. As such, he thought it would be appropriate to introduce you to Robert Aickman, an incredibly gifted yet underrated writer of strange fiction. Glad to have you, David!
Robert Aickman is the genius of nightmare. His stories create a voiceless dread, feeding on characters and images that are endlessly disturbing. Sooner or later, reading him, you just want to wake up from what feels more and more like a very bad dream:
I caught hold of her left arm by putting both my hands round her wrist, and tried to lug her up toward me, so that I could feel her thrown against me, and could cover her neck and front with kisses, if only she could make me want to … I gave this great, bad-tempered, disappointed pull … She came up towards me and then fell back again with a sort of wail. I was still holding on to her hand and wrist … What had happened was that I had pulled her left hand and wrist right off.“The Swords” (1975) From Cold Hand In Mine
“Remake”—the very word inspires the most dramatic of eye rolls for horror fans. That’s because so many horror remakes are unnecessary. All too often, remakes are based on films that were wonderfully crafted, and some producer somewhere is trying to make a quick buck by dragging a good movie’s legacy through the mud.
Seriously, how frustrating is it when a solid, well-made horror classic, like 1982’s Poltergeist, gets remade? Poltergeist didn’t need a remake! And if someone just had to remake it, couldn’t they have created something better than the 2015 remake?
But then, again, how cool is it when a horror remake actually adds to or improves upon the original horror film? As much as I love Dario Argento’s Suspiria, it has its flaws. Luckily, the remake of Suspiria paid homage to the original, avoided copying the original’s aesthetic, and dove deep into the plot. What resulted was an original film that preserved the original’s legacy and stood on its own.
Or take the most recent news about the remake of Candyman, a good film that could have been great. It’s set to be produced by Jordan Peele and promises to dig into the power of the Candyman mythos against the backdrop of the now-gentrified area where the Cabrini-Green housing projects once stood. With Peele at the helm, I’m optimistic that this remake will cover a lot of new ground when it comes to racism and class differences, which is sadly very relevant.
That got me thinking—what are some other horror films that deserve a remake? What are some films that were good but not great, full of potential that shouldn’t be wasted? For whatever reason, be it a shoe-string budget, uneven writing, or production troubles, tons of horror movies never reached their full potential despite having most of the parts to do so.
***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.
The Venice International Film Festival officially kicks off today, serving as one of the most important stops on the film festival circuit. Venice is one of the three most influential film festivals in the world, up there with Cannes and Berlin. As such, films showcased at Venice are regarded as being the crème de la crème, as prestigious films that aim to elevate the medium of film.
Of course, horror films are often overlooked. But not always.