***Warning, mild spoilers for The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires***
Vampires are my favorite monsters. I love how they represent a dangerous, alluring mixture of lust, power, sin, and death. I cannot get enough of how they are compelled by their desperate thirst even as they leverage human weaknesses to seduce victims.
Likewise, I’ve always appreciated author Grady Hendrix’s nuanced understanding of monsters and horror tropes. He possesses an uncanny ability to tap into pop horror elements, investigate how they work, and map them onto our lives. He did it in Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, both of which I loved. So, when I heard that Grady Hendrix, author of some of my favorite horror novels of the past few years, I was stoked.
I wasn’t disappointed—not only was The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires worth the wait but it is now my favorite Grady Hendrix work. As a longtime fan, I find it his most mature, compelling, and satisfying work. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires represents a new level of his craft, where he has successfully dissected the vampire archetype, crafted compelling and realistic characters, and breathing new life into an old story. And he didn’t sacrifice any of his trademark dark humor or his love for gross-out scenes.
With summer drawing to a close, I find myself contemplating how the
meaning of “summer” has evolved throughout my life. As an adult, summer means vacation,
renewed gratitude for Texas-proof air conditioning, and drinking copious
amounts of rosé poolside. As a teenager, summer was consumed with plans to drop
the ten pounds that held me back from being irresistible, scrape together spending
money, and secure a sensitive-but-jocky boyfriend. As a kid, summer was
dominated by summer sports camps, vacation bible schools (blergh), and babysitting
gigs. Whatever my plans, summer means watching tons of TV shows and movies,
which prevent me from getting too bored and getting into too much trouble.
As a kid, I watched so many movies. Everything from old black and white
classics to mediocre romcoms to trashy teen slashers. I especially adored those
adventure movies of the 80s, the iconic films where a group of scrappy latchkey
kids, preteens like I used to be, face a fantastic and dangerous challenge.
Just like with the enticing and taboo slashers where teenagers talked and acted
like adults, so too did those 80s movies suck me into dream worlds where kids
answered the frightening and tempting call of adventure. The threat of injury
and death were always very real. The threat lingered constantly, and the
vicarious possibility of being the casualty, of never making it back home, of becoming
stuck in the nightmare world, was all too compelling.
Those stories have always spoken to me as well as an untold number of my contemporaries. This is the reason why Stranger Things, fueled by what critics merely assume to be nostalgia, enjoys immense popularity.
(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
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.
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?
“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.
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.
*Beware, here be mild spoilers for The Terror.*
Maybe it’s because I’m a life-long Texan and I have no concept of what real winter is, but I love horror movies set in cold climates. I find that there’s a certain exoticism to an icy, snowy horror setting, where the threat of freezing to death is just as real as being eaten by a monster. That’s part of what draws me to films like Let The Right One In, The Shining, 30 Days of Night, and, of course, The Thing.
Now that it’s the end of July, and because I live in Houston, this time of the summer is particularly brutal. To ignore the oppressive heat and humidity, I’ve been spending most of my time indoors watching television and sucking down cold drinks. Every Texan knows that the best way to take advantage of our powerful air conditioning is to watch a movie that makes you feel cold.
Which brings me to The Terror.