Spookies (1986)

At their best, horror anthologies revive the undead spirit of EC Comics and short-fiction collections like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: curated omnibuses of various ghouls & creepies that run the full creature-feature spectrum in one concise volume. The 1986 horror cheapie Spookies accomplishes that same effect in a roundabout way, even though it’s not technically an anthology picture. Its own tasting-menu collection of spooky monsters was not arranged as a deliberate series of vignettes, but rather hastily slapped together in post-production to save itself from being scrapped entirely. Originally conceived & shot as a haunted house picture titled Twisted Souls, the film was stripped from the hands of its original creators in a bitter post-production brawl with the studio. After-the-fact co-director & editor Eugenie Joseph was then hired to shoot additional footage set in the same haunted house locale to Frankenstein together a “cohesive” cut of the film without the input of the original crew. Joseph received top-bill over the original directors (Thomas Doran & Brendan Faulkner), as her revision of & addition to the Twisted Souls footage was molded into the delightful, creepy-crawly mess that is Spookies. Fractured across two separate production crews and held together only by its central haunted house locale, Spookies is effectively a creature feature horror anthology: a series of disconnected vignettes that each present a spooky-creature-of-the-minute for our temporary enjoyment.

It’s crystal clear why Joseph had to shoot additional footage to craft a cohesive “story” out of Twisted Souls’s leftovers. The original storyline, as presented in the finished product, involves a cast of drunken hooligans looking to party in a haunted house only to be tormented by the spooky creatures therein. There’s no goal, payoff, or overarching theme to this haunted house experience – just a Scooby-Doo style investigation: systematically opening very door in an old Gothic house to reveal the next consecutive jumpscare. Joseph’s first major addition is the semblance of a plot. She shot a series of ghoulish pontifications from a Vincent Price-type eccentric villain who seemingly dispatches the titular spookies on the housecrashers from a far-off parlor. He never shares the screen with the spookies for obvious reasons, but he at least affords them a purpose & an origin. Other additions were obviously a play to pad out the slim runtime of Twisted Souls’s leftovers, especially a B-story where a young boy unconnected to the housecrashers is chased through a graveyard by the ghoulish eccentric’s werecat servant. I also get the sense that Joseph made some of her more obnoxious additions to Spookies merely to amuse herself in the editing room –namely adding fart noises to a scene where characters are tormented by subterranean monsters that I suppose she interpreted to be septic. Whether the fart noises were something she genuinely believed improved the atmosphere of that scene or she added them solely to troll the financiers who put her in the position of cleaning up someone else’s mess in the editing room is anyone’s guess. Either way, it’s a hilariously juvenile gag that helps remind the audience to not take anything onscreen too seriously, lest we start getting annoyed at Spookies’s total disregard for purpose or continuity.

As interesting as Spookies is for its AIP-reminiscent production history (think The Terror or Blood Bath), the film’s only true merit as entertainment is how many spookies it can manage to deliver in its brisk 80min runtime. It does an admirable job in that respect, flooding the screen with as many “spookies” as it can think to conjure: demons, witches, zombies, werecats, spiderwomen, killer toys, Ouija boards, basement-dwelling fart monsters, and so on. Its disinterest in plot, its overflow of spooky creatures, and its classic haunted house & graveyard sets all make it perfect background fodder for your next cheap-beer Halloween gathering with spookies-loving friends. Horror anthologies are always an excellent choice for those short attention span scenarios, apparently including ones that become anthologies by accident in post. I even got a déjà vu sensation midway through the film that I had seen it before somewhere, so maybe I’ve even been to a party where Spookies was playing in the background – exactly where it belongs.

-Brandon Ledet

Halloween Report 2019: Best of the Swampflix Horror Tag

Halloween is rapidly approaching, which means many cinephiles & genre nerds out there are currently planning to cram in as many scary movies as they can before the second-best day of the year (behind Mardi Gras, of course) passes us by. We here at Swampflix watch a lot of horror year round, so instead of overloading you with the full list of all the spooky movies we’ve covered since last year’s Halloween report (or the one before that), here’s a selection of the best of the best. We’ve tried to break it down into a few separate categories to help you find what cinematic scares you’re looking for. Hopefully this helps anyone looking to add some titles to their annual horror binge. Happy hauntings!

Art House Horror

If you’re looking for an escape from the endless parade of trashy slasher movies & want a more formally refined style of horror film, this list might be a good place to start.

La Belle et la Bête (1946) – “I cannot deny the visual splendor & fairy tale magic of Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête; it’s every bit of a masterpiece as it has been hyped to be, just a gorgeous sensory immersion that defines the highest possible achievements of its medium. What I didn’t know to expect, however, what its reputation as the defining Beauty and the Beast adaptation had not prepared me for, was that it would be so deliriously horny. La Belle et la Bête is more than just a masterpiece; it’s a deliriously horny Kink Masterpiece, which is a much rarer breed.”

Midsommar (2019) – “The mainstream horror-going audience has spent over a decade now subsisting on films that depend heavily on unearned jump scares to produce a reaction, but Midsommar and its predecessor, Hereditary, instead use the quietness of their presentation to inspire a disquiet of the soul. We’ve been forcefed Baghouls hiding behind open medicine cabinet doors for so long that when lingering shots of pastoral peace are succeeded by calm pans across striking farmhouses or documentarian framing of a Swedish banquet, there’s nowhere for that energy to go; so it just builds and builds until whoops, now you’re wearing a bear suit and boy are you not going to like it.”

The Reflecting Skin (1990) – “The children of The Reflecting Skin are creepily obsessed with the mortality, sexuality, violent perversions, and biological limitations of adulthood in a way that confuses them, weaponizes them, and makes them vulnerable for exploitation. And when they grow up, it only gets worse. It’s an absolutely brutal worldview that no amount of escapist fantasy could ever fully cover up.”

Inferno (1980) – “Whether keeping the mythology as thinly sketched out as it was in the original film or over-explaining superfluous new wrinkles to the lore, the overall strength of a Suspiria follow-up lies in the pleasures of its sense of style. Inferno may be the most underrated in this regard– mixing the neon witchcraft aesthetic from its predecessor with the gloved-hand giallo kills of other Argento works & Fulci-level shameless gags singular to its own vision (there are a couple cat & rat-themed eco-horror kills I find especially pleasurable) to achieve something truly special.”

 

The Horrors of Fashion

Of Montreal aren’t the only damned souls who suffer for fashion; check out these violent dispatches from the Hell of haute couture.

In Fabric (2019) – “Wholly committed to over-the-top excess in every frame & decision, whether it’s indulging in an artsy collage of vintage fashion catalog advertisements or deploying a killer dress to dispose of a goofball victim entirely unaware of the occultist backstory of their sartorial selections. It’s both funny and chilling, beautiful and ludicrous. It’s perfect, as long as you can tune into its left-of-the-dial demonic frequency.”

The Neon Demon (2016) – “In our original conversation about Puzzle of a Downfall Child, I mentioned that ‘Between its thematic discomforts, its deliberately disorienting relationship with logic, and its gorgeous visual palette, it’s practically a couple brutal stabbings short of being a giallo film.’ Perhaps Blood and Black Lace would be the best place to look for a pure-giallo take on the fashion industry, but The Neon Demon follows Puzzle of a Downfall Child’s exact narrative template while fully indulging in the excesses of horror cinema: supernatural occultist threats, intense neon crosslighting, bathtubs brimming with blood & gore, etc. While pushing the narrative of Puzzle of a Downfall Child into a full-blown horror aesthetic, it also plays around with the traditional power dynamics of that story template in perversely exciting ways. They make for deeply fucked up, disturbing sister films in that way – high fashion descents into madness & bloodshed.”

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) – “Director Irvin Kershner (of The Empire Strikes Back & RoboCop 2 notoriety) bolsters this supernatural murder mystery (originally penned by a young John Carpenter in its earliest drafts) with plenty familiar giallo touches – complete with a gloved hand protruding from offscreen to dispose of victims in Mars’s psychic visions. The fashion industry setting is a major factor in that aesthetic, as it was a world familiar to gialli at least as far back as Mario Bava’s Blood & Black Lace.”

 

Femme Nightmare Realms

Sink into the insular, hyper-feminine sensory pleasures of these Girls’ Club fantasy realms, but beware the nightmares that lurk just under their candy-coated surfaces.

Heavenly Creatures (1994) – “Obviously personally obsessed with the material at hand, Peter Jackson shoots these girls’ murderous attraction to each other with the same funhouse cinematic eye he afforded the over-the-top splatter comedies of his early career, except with a newfound pathos. Jackson’s camera work is as drunk on the characters’ violent chemistry as they are, adapting the same cartoonish aesthetic of his zombie comedies to a newfound, purposeful effect. I could never choose between Heavenly Creatures or Dead Alive as the best title in his catalog, then, as they’re equally, weirdly broad & childish considering the violence of their content. Heavenly Creatures is distinguished there in its immersion in the imagination of two real-life children whose dual fantasy ultimately resulted in a real-life body count. It’s both incredibly impressive and incredibly fucked up how well Jackson manages to put his audience in the headspace of these two extremely particular young women.”

Braid (2019) – “The closest appropriate comparison might be to call the film a Heavenly Creatures for the Forever 21 era, with all the obsessive psychosexuality & fetish for brightly colored fashion that descriptor implies. Given the music video freak-outs and detours into torture porn, however, no 1:1 comparison could ever fully cover what transpires here. There’s a lot going on, and it’s kind of all over the place – but it all feels delightfully, excitedly new.”

Paradise Hills (2019) – “This is far from the first fairy tale to lure characters in with a bounty of sensual pleasures only for the fruits therein to be revealed as rotten, cursed, or poisonous. In that tradition, Paradise Hills presents a fairytale Eden that’s deadly dangerous precisely because the pleasures it offers on the surface are so tempting. It would be far too easy to lose yourself in this pleasure palace – both literally and figuratively.”

Cam (2018) – “As a cyberthriller about the Evil Internet, Cam excels as an exploitation of our fears of the digital Unknown just as well as any film I’ve ever seen—Unfriended included. The digital grain of the camgirl’s neon-pink broadcast set (a disturbing mixture of infantile stuffed-animals girls’ décor & professional kink gear) combines with an eerie assault of laptop-speaker message notifications to isolate our haunted protagonist in a physical chatroom that feels stuck between two realms – the online & the irl. It’s the most high-femme version of cyber-horror I’ve seen since Nerve (another thriller where an isolated young woman escalates the dangers of her online activity for money & attention), including even the Heathers-riffing vibe of Assassination Nation.

 

 Sexual Mania

Cronenberg may be the godfather of the “horniness made me violently crazy” subgenre of body horror, but there are plenty of dangerously turned-on descendents beneath him willing to take up that prurient mantle.

The Wild Boys (2018) – “Feels like an adaptation of erotica written on an intense mushroom trip 100 years ago. All of its psychedelic beauty & nightmarish sexual id is filtered through an early 20th Century adventurers’ lens, feeling simultaneously archaic & progressive in its depictions & subversions of gender & sexuality. It looks like Guy Maddin directing an ancient pervert’s wet dream, both beautifully & brutally old-fashioned in its newfangled deconstruction of gender.”

Knife+Heart (2019) – “A neon saturated fever dream, and yet it holds together in a way that is truly astonishing and thoughtful, considering that multiple people get stabbed to death by a knife hidden inside of a makeshift phallus.”

Climax (2019) – “Your personal response to this pretentious, obnoxious, ‘French and fucking proud of it’ smut will vary wildly depending on how much interest you tend to have in the type of edgy, over-the-top art-schlock Gaspar Noé usually traffics in. If it’s something you have absolutely zero patience for, the movie will alienate you early & often – leaving you just as miserable as the tripped-out dancers who tear each other apart on the screen. If, like me, you’re always curious about what Noé’s up to but never fully connect with the fucked-up party therein, you might just find yourself succumbing to the prurient displeasures of DJ Daddy and the killer sangria.”

Body Double (1984) – “It’s a product of its time, a sleazy De Palma take on a Hitchcock classic, and as such it’s an oddity that I can’t recommend more highly. It’s definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for months. There’s a new 4k restoration making the rounds, and it’s well worth the price of admission. And, as Halloween approaches, if you generally like your scares a little more cerebral than slashy but still want to feel a little bit dirty, Body Double could be your new go-to.”

Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (2014) – “Josephine Decker’s version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, her Spider-Baby, her Mudhoney. The visual & tonal aggression that overwhelms the screen is undeniably unique to Decker, but the ultimate destination of the narrative it serves is the closest she’s come to making an outright genre film. Butter on the Latch may vaguely recall the aesthetics & rhythms of The Blair Witch Project and there are plenty of unraveling-women-detached-from-reality horror stories that precede Madeline’s Madeline, but neither film match the feral-family horror extremity & familiarity exploited here, especially in its concluding minutes.”

 

Sci-Fi Horror

Horror often depends on the uncanny & the supernatural invading the hard-facts logic of the real world to unnerve its audience, but sometimes the best key to unlocking that disruption of reality is the factual speculation of science fiction.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) – “I had remembered Beyond the Black Rainbow as being less plotty and less emotional than Mandy, but after this revisit I’m not convinced that’s entirely true. Between Barry’s resentful anger & Elena’s silent anguish, Beyond the Black Rainbow traffics in plenty of extreme emotional expression; it’s just not the aspect of the film that stuck with me most on first watch.”

Phase IV (1974) – “It’s a hypnotic, immersive vision of paranormal menace, one that could easily play as outdated kitsch but instead triggers a nightmarish trance. It’s the same effect that’s achieved throughout Beyond the Black Rainbow, especially in its Altered States-reminiscent LSD experiment flashback where its main antagonist ‘looks into the Eye of God.’ It’s an effect that returns full-force in Phase IV’s psychedelic, nihilistic conclusion as well, which describes a next stage in human evolution triggered by the paranormal ants’ attacks on mankind.”

Pig Film (2018) – “The degradation of the picture quality (as it was shot entirely on expired, second-hand film stock) combines with the grimy art-instillation surreality of its pig farm setting to establish an overriding sense of isolation & rot that feels more emotional & subliminal than overtly political. Human or not, our sole on-screen character is the last shred of humanity left stalking the mess of a planet we’ll soon leave behind, emptily mimicking the records of our behavior she finds in our rubble and converting that industrial garbage into beautiful song. It’s a gorgeous, grimy nightmare – a sinister poem.”

Elizabeth Harvest (2018) –Elizabeth Harvest is one of the most visually stunning films that I’ve seen come out this year. I love that it’s a très chic twist on the Bluebeard tale with just enough gore and mystery to satisfy the sci-fi horror nerd in us all.”

Child’s Play (2019) – “While a drastic deviation from the 1988 original in terms of plot & tone, it does ultimately amount to a similar effect. This feels like the exact kind of nasty, ludicrous horror flicks kids fall in love with when they happen to catch them at too young of an age on cable. It’s too violent for children but far too silly for adults, the exact formula that made early Child’s Play movies cult classics in the first place.”

 

Mainstream Horror

It often feels as if we’re living in a substantial horror renaissance where metaphor & atmosphere-conscious indie filmmakers are revitalizing a genre that desperately needs new blood. These films are a welcome reminder that mainstream horror outlets & genre-faithful traditionalists can still deliver just as much of a punch as their art house, “elevated” horror competition.

Us (2019) – “The second film helmed by the director who inexplicably turned Blumhouse Productions into a semi-prestige film production house because they were the only ones willing to take a chance on Get Out is more ambitious than its predecessor, meaning that sometimes it swings a bit wider but ultimately has the same meticulous attention to detail, from literal Chekovian guns to a multitude of characters being literally and metaphorically reflected in surfaces both pristine and cracked to even something so small as apparently intentionally offbeat snapping.”

Ma (2019) – “It’s at first baffling to learn that Tate Taylor, the doofus responsible for The Help, also directed this deliciously over the-top schlock, but it gradually becomes obvious that the goon simply loves to watch Octavia Spencer devour the scenery and it just took him a while to find the proper context for that indulgence – the psychobiddy.”

Orphan (2009) – “As much as I’ve come to respect Jaume Collet-Serra for essentially remaking Speed with a new novelty conceit in every subsequent picture, Orphan is wildly entertaining for setting him loose and allowing him to indulge in whatever silly idea inspires him from minute to minute. It’s a movie that deserves to be forgotten for its sins against good taste, but I can’t help but be tickled by it.”

Venom (2018) – “Tom Hardy sweats, pukes, gnaws on live crustaceans, and rants at top volume throughout Venom as if he were in a modern big-budget remake of an 80s Henenlotter body-horror comedy instead of a run-of-the-mill superhero picture. He singlehandedly elevates the movie through stubborn force of will; it’s a performance that demands awe and rewards it with increasingly grotesque, uncomfortable laughs.”

Glass (2019) – “A strange combination of a superhero movie and psychological thriller. Unlike the average superhero movie, there’s not really a distinct villain. Sure, The Horde and Mr. Glass do some pretty evil shit, but they both don’t really fit into the ‘bad guy’ mold. It’s like Shyamalan leaves that up to us to decide.”

 

Slashers

One crazed killer stacking up an exponential body count while a Final Girl archetype builds up the courage to best them in a climactic showdown; a simple, but evergreen formula.

Black Christmas (1974) – “The lewd phone calls the college-girl victims receive are grotesquely unnerving. The killer gargles, shrieks, and moans in sexually explicit menace over the phone while the girls cower in disgust around the receiver. The effect is anguished & inhuman, an unholy assault of aural discomfort.”

Stripped to Kill 2: Live Girls (1989) – “In its most surreal moments, Stripped to Kill 2: Live Girls is like a psychedelic, Kate Bush-inspired porno where the performers took too many hallucinogens and accidentally slipped into interpretative dance when the script said they should bone. At its worst it’s low-energy Skinemax sleaze, which can be charming in its own way. In either instance, it’s way more entertaining & bizarre than the first Stripped to Kill film, despite their shared penchant for poorly aged, queerphobic conclusions.”

Halloween (2018) – “When considered in isolation, the two separate plot threads of Halloween (2018) – the Strode Family drama & the Michael Myers killing spree – feel woefully incomplete. One is too brief in screentime to land with full emotional impact, while the other is too reference-heavy & genre-faithful to feel memorable or distinct. The film’s brilliance lies in the way these separate tracks work in tandem. Cutting between Laurie’s conviction that Michael is staging a showdown with her specifically and Michael’s entirely unconcerned, indiscriminate killing spree in seemingly an entirely different movie creates a fascinating narrative tension. It becomes increasingly tragic as Laurie gets what she wants by artificially forcing the two threads to converge as if it were her Fate.”

 

Softcore Torture Porn

Maybe there’s no such thing as Great Torture Porn (since the term itself is something of an insult) but there are some great movies that use torture as an effective device for building tension, dread, and disgust.

Pledge (2019) – “Not only does the film sidestep the torture porn genre’s usual misogynist tendencies by making its basic themes about toxic masculinity; it also takes the time to make its central victims relatable, pitiable nerds you actually have an affection for before turning around to torture them for a solid hour of gore-splattered mayhem. As a result, its prolonged, grisly deaths are genuinely unnerving, if not outright heartbreaking.”

Apostle (2018) – “Visually stunning and just so damn unique. I truly hope it gets the recognition it so rightly deserves from the horror community and goes down in genre movie history as a ‘cult’ classic.”

Escape Room (2019) – “The movie acknowledges that escape rooms are inherently dorky, rushes to pack one with broad caricatures anyway, and then puts its head down to power through the most absurd applications of its gimmick that it can conjure in just 100 minutes. You can squint your eyes looking for interesting choices in neon lighting, spooky synth music, or lavish production design, but you’d be fooling yourself for trying to pump this film up for being anything more than it is: cheap January genre trash with an all-in commitment to an attention-grabbing gimmick. It’s entirely satisfying for being just that and not pretending there’s a need for more.”

 

Creature Features

Do you want to see some weird/gross/creepy/goofy monsters? Check out these bad boys.

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) – “From the design of its robot monsters to the eerie sounds of its ambient Elisabeth Lutyens score, The Earth Dies Screaming is shockingly well-made for a production of its scale & budget. What makes it a significant work, though, is its ability to cram three movies’ worth of entertainment into the space of an hour. Whether you’re a 1960s teen hoping for extra minutes of smooching after you leave the drive-in or a 2010s serial streamer pressed for time to take it all in, there’s a tremendous value to that kind of genre film efficiency. I’ve watched entire seasons of television with fewer ideas than this film conveys in its first half hour and I greatly appreciate that it doesn’t hang around for too much longer after it gets them across.”

The Pit (1981) – “In the words of SNL‘s Stefon, ‘This movie’s got everything: pits full of hungry humanoid creatures, disturbingly sexual pre-teens, talking bears, MURDER.”

The Gate (1987) – “Where The Gate excels is in finding its scares in small, detail-fixated childhood moments of fears of the unknown: dead pets, shadows cast from bugs & toys, parents rotting & collapsing into goo, treehouses struck down by lighting while children are inside, heavy metal albums unleashing demonic rituals when played backwards, a creature living behind bedroom walls, arms grabbing ankles from beneath the bed, etc. The brilliant gimmick of the tiny minions released from the backyard hole is that they can form together into a shapeshifted, larger gestalt threat that, when defeated, only re-separates into the tiny, unkillable demons. Defeating & re-containing the forces of Hell released through the gate before they overtake the world feels like an impossible task for the two young boys who face it, which only heightens the childhood-specific fear of having too much responsibility and no power or control.”

Overlord (2018) – “Real-life Nazis are gross & worthy enough of destruction without the help of schlocky exaggeration, but just in case you’re not fully convinced (as seems to be the case with young Alt-Right recruits online) Overlord takes giddy pleasure in spelling it out for you.”

 

Horror Comedies

Here’s some recommendations in case you’re looking to have some yucks along with your scares.

One Cut of the Dead (2019) – “So much of One Cut of the Dead is on shaky logical ground because of the limitation of its filmmaking resources, but horror fans who are inclined to watch low-budget, high-concept zombie movies in the first place should be used to making those allowances. What’s brilliant about the film is how it transforms those awkward low-budget details into something brilliantly executed & purposeful. Revealing how it performs that miracle in a review would be a crime that I’m not willing to commit. You just have to afford it your attention & trust long enough to see it for yourself.”

Come to Daddy (2019) – “As Elijah Wood’s cowardly protagonist sinks further in over his head in sinewy ultraviolence, the picture begins to play like a farcical mutation of a Jeremy Saulnier picture – not unlike Wood’s recent turn in I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, just creepier.”

Chained for Life (2019) – “At times eerie, howlingly funny, cruel, sweet, and disorienting, Chained for Life mines a lot of rich cinematic material out if its initial conceit of discussing Hollywood’s historic tradition of exploiting disabled & disfigured performers for gross-out scares & sideshow exploitation. Freaks isn’t the movie’s target so much as its jumping point, so that Browning’s self-contradictory act of empathetic exploitation is demonstrative of how disabled & disfigured people are represented onscreen at large.”

 

Campy Spectacles

If you’re looking for a little irony in your horror comedy yucks, these films tend more towards the so-bad-it’s-funny side of humor, sometimes intentionally and sometimes far from it. They’re the best we have to offer in terms of bad taste.

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) – “Marijuana & premarital sex had been triggering teen deaths in exploitation pictures dating all the way back to the 1950s, long before slashers added machetes & kitchen knives to the recipe. Slumber Party Massacre II modernized the formula by introducing an entirely new source of teenage transgression, one highly specific to the 1980s: music television. In the five years between the first two Slumber Party Massacre releases, MTV had proven to be a kind of cultural behemoth instead of a flash-in-the-pan novelty. Suddenly, the already sinful business of rock n’ roll had a direct line to youngsters’ television sets, where it could tempt them into darkness with all of the sex, drugs, and partying their little eyes could take in. MTV had come to visually represent the teen rebelliousness that ruined so many fictional lives in exploitation cinema past and the Corman-funded, Deborah Brock-directed team behind Slumber Party Massacre II were smart to adapt that visual language to the slasher genre format.”

Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991) – “There’s a lot to love in The Progeny. It may not measure up to the accidental(?) genius of its predecessors, but it makes up for most of its weaknesses with another strong performance from Ross (Van Hentenryck is at the same level as always), and its sudden turn into a revenge flick at the midpoint is a pleasant surprise, even if the franchise’s hallmark gore is greatly reduced for this sequel. You may even end up wanting a little baby Belial of your very own.”

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) – “Effortlessly balances being a satire of the highbrow art world while also being a blood-soaked slasher. The star-studded cast (including fabulous appearances by my all-time favorite actress, Toni Collette) work their magic by giving fabulous performances without allowing the film to lose its funky underground vibes.”

Gooby (2009) –Gooby is, in theory, the wholesome version of The Pit, with all the icky sex & violence replaced with tender, empathetic insight into the mental processes of an outsider child on the spectrum struggling to adapt to a new reality and to relate to the other humans in his social circle. Yet, Gooby is deeply disturbing in its own, unintended way both because of its lighthearted, sanitized exploration of deeply troubling emotional issues and because Gooby himself is a goddamn nightmare to look at.”

And as if that weren’t enough already, we also have podcast episodes on Crawl, Ready or Not, Knife+Heart, Border, Ma, Pledge, Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, The 6th Sense, Little Otik, The Witches of Eastwick, Darkman, and Blade, all horror gems we’d heartily recommend.

-The Swampflix Crew

Brandon’s Top Genre Gems & Trashy Treasures of 2018

1. 2.0 The more I watch big-budget Asian cinema the more I understand that it’s common for a single movie to touch on as many genres it can instead of sticking to just one. This Kollywood flick fully lives up to that ethos, melding technophobic sci-fi, Environmentalist political advocacy, ghost-possession horror, android-on-android romance, slapstick farce, superhero action spectacle, and philosophical debate into one lumbering, silly-ass beast. I loved it all, both for the surprise of its novelty and for its audacity to go big & so silly.

2. The Misandrists Queer punk prankster Bruce LaBruce’s latest work is a little too cheeky & misshapen to stand out as my favorite movie of the year but it is the most John Watersiest film I’ve seen all year, which, close enough. The Misandrists has clear thematic & aesthetic vision and a distinct political voice, but its commanding ethos is still aggressively amateur & D.I.Y. Its burn-it-all-down gender & sexual politics are sincerely revolutionary but are also filtered through a thick layer of sarcasm & over-the-top-camp. You might be justified in assuming it was a film school debut from a young, angry upstart with a still-fresh appetite for shock humor & pornography, but it’s got the clear vision & tonal control of an artist who’s been honing their craft for decades – like John Waters at his best.

3. The First PurgeThere’s nothing subtle about The First Purge’s political messaging in its depictions of white government operatives invading helpless, economically wrecked black neighborhoods to thin out the ranks of its own citizenry, nor should there be. We do not live in subtle times. What I didn’t expect, though, was that the film would be willing to push the imagery of its volatile racial politics to the extremes it achieves as the violence reaches its third act crescendo. I greatly respect its bravery & lack of restraint, almost enough to finally give the rest of the series a chance.

4. Blockers This modern teen sex comedy shifts away from the bro-friendly humor of its genre’s American Pie & Porky’s past by approaching the subject from a femme, sex-positive perspective. I don’t quite understand the narrative that its mold-breaking challenge to the gendered politics of the typical high school sex comedy is revolutionary. If nothing else, The To Do List already delivered an excellent femme subversion of the trope to a tepid critical response in 2013 and 2014’s Wetlands has set the bar impossibly high for what a gross-out femme sex comedy can achieve. Blockers is a damn fun addition to that tide-change, though, one that’s surprisingly emotionally effective in a John Hughes tradition beyond its sexual buffoonery.

5. A Simple Favor Mainstream comedy mainstay Paul Feig shakes up his usual schtick with a tongue-in-cheek Gone Girl riff. The performances, writing, and costuming are all naughtily playful at the exact perfect one, especially in how they converge to create a career-high showcase for Blake Lively. The wild shifts in tone from dark humor to dime story mystery novel intrigue can leave unsuspecting audiences more befuddled than amused, but this has serious cult classic potential among the weirdos on its distinctly modern wavelength.

6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse In the abstract, the concept of a 2010s CG animation Spider-Man origin story sounds dreadful. In practice, prankster screenwriter Phil Lord explodes the concept into a wild cosmic comedy by making a movie about the world’s over-abundance of Spider-Man origin stories (and about the art of CG animation at large). Into the Spider-Verse is a shockingly imaginative, beautiful, and hilarious take on a story & medium that should be a total drag but is instead is bursting with energetic life & psychedelic creativity here.

7. VenomTom Hardy gives a downright Nic Cagian performance in Venom, dialing the intensity to a constant 11 in a movie where everything else is set to a comfortable 7. Hardy sweats, pukes, gnaws on live crustaceans, and rants at top volume throughout the film as if he were in a modern big-budget remake of an 80s Henenlotter body-horror comedy instead of a run-of-the-mill superhero picture. He singlehandedly elevates the movie through stubborn force of will; it’s a performance that demands awe and rewards it with increasingly grotesque, uncomfortable laughs.

8. Hotel ArtemisUnlike most overwritten post-Tarantino crime thrillers, this misshapen gem is genuinely, consistently hilarious. With the hotel setting and absurdist mix-ups of an Old Hollywood farce, Hotel Artemis embraces the preposterousness of its exceedingly silly premise in a way that more cheap genre films could stand to. However, the joys of watching Jodie Foster waddle around the titular hotel and lovingly tell patrons they look “like all the shades of shit” are very peculiar & very particular. That kind of highly specific appeal can be a blessing in disguise for a scrappy, over-the-top genre film, and I can totally see Hotel Artemis gathering a dedicated cult following over time.

9. Overlord There’s nothing especially nuanced or unique about the message “Nazis are evil & gross and must be destroyed,” but in the context of 2018’s political climate it still feels damn good to hear. This is especially true when said Nazis are shot, set aflame, and exploded in an over-the-top action spectacle that cares way more about cathartic fun than it does about historical accuracy. We may be living in a world where war thrillers & zombie pictures are all too plentiful, but there can never be enough condemnation of Nazi scumbaggery.

10. Black Panther I can’t pretend that this movie hit me as the mind-blowing, form-breaking revelation most audiences see it as (mostly because its titular hero is something of a moralistic bore). I’d even feel comfortable calling it the least of Ryan Coogler’s works, even if it is his best-funded. As an Afrofuturist sci-fi spectacle with a killer villainous performance from the consistently-great Michael B. Jordan, however, it’s easy to cite this franchise entry as one of the best of the MCU canon. My appreciation for Black Panther might be relatively subdued when compared to others’, but I could contently watch spaceships fly around Wakanda while Michael B Jordan chews scenery & background actors model Afrofuturist fashion designs for a blissful eternity.

11. How to Talk to Girls at Parties A jubilant, musically-charged mess of bisexual, youthful rebellion that’s half theatre-kid earnestness & half no-fucks-given punk. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s (incredibly short) short story of the same name, How to Talk to Girls at Parties finds John Cameron Mitchell crafting his own Velvet Goldmine vision of pop excess, except set in England’s early-stages punk scene, years after the demise of the glam scene lauded in Todd Haynes’s film. The film’s future-kink set design, punk needle drops, irreverent culture-clash humor, and performances by indie scene heavyweights Elle Fanning (as a babe-in-the woods space alien rebel) & Nicole Kidman (as a parodic Vivienne Westwood knockoff) are all intoxicating pleasures that readily distract from the fact that Mitchell has greedily bitten off more than any human could possibly chew, only to spit the overflow into the air in defiance of tastefulness.

12. Halloween Like with The Force Awakens, this Halloween sequel/remake/reboot has the impossible task of pleasing everyone, ranging from devotees of the original who want to know how Laurie Strode’s doing 40 years later to first-weekend horror-gobbling teens who just want to see some jump scares & interesting kills. I believe it did an excellent job of satisfying the most extreme ends of that divide by treating them as separate tracks, then giving them a substantive reason to converge. The tension between the original Halloween’s storyline’s need to logically seek closure & the slasher genre’s need to propagate random, senseless violence makes this film one of the best examples of its franchise – one that has something substantive to say about Fate, Evil, and self-fulfilling prophecies.

13. Marrowbone If you’re not especially in love with the atmospheric feel of the traditional haunted house genre, this film’s aesthetic details and bonkers third act might not be enough to carry you beyond the sense that we’ve seen this story told onscreen many times before. More forgiving Gothic horror fans should find plenty of admirable specificity to this particular story, though – the kind of tangible, unhinged detailing that allows the best ghost stories to stick to the memory despite their decades (if not centuries) of cultural familiarity.

14. Assassination NationUpdates & subverts the Heathers formula by adopting the glib, dark humor of Twitter-speak, where all human experience – even the worst misery & public embarrassment imaginable – is fair game for a flippant, casually tossed-off joke. This weaponized, empathy-free brand of online humor sits on the stomach with an unease, only to gradually erupt into full-on, gendered violence once it escapes the anonymity of the internet and devolves into a public display. Assassination Nation may be costumed like a glib, modernist Heathers descendant, but it’s ultimately less interested in making you laugh than it is in making you sick to your stomach. Once you catch onto that nausea being its exact intended effect, it’s an incredibly impressive work.

15. Mom and Dad A wickedly fun satire about traditional families’ barely concealed hatred for their own; a chaotic portrait of selfishness & self-loathing in the modern suburban home. This movie hides behind tongue-in-cheek touches like a 70s exploitation-themed credits sequence & stylized dialogue like “My mom is a penis,” but just under its ironic camp surface rots a charred, bitterly angry heart, one with no respect for the almighty Family Values that mainstream America holds so dear. Show up for Nic Cage destroying a pool table with a sledgehammer while singing “The Hokey Pokey;” stay for the pitch-black humor about “successful” adults who find their manicured, suburban lives with the right career & the right family bitterly unfulfilling.

16. Batman Ninja The concept of mashing up Batman with anime sounds like a nerd’s wet dream, a juvenile pleasure impulse Batman Ninja attempts to live up to in every self-indulgent frame. With intense character redesigns from Japanese manga artist Takashi Okazaki and an impressive team of traditionalist animators, this movie is almost well-crated enough to pass itself off as an art piece instead of what it truly is: nonstop over-the-top excess, a shameless sky-high pile of pop culture trash. Batman Ninja seems entirely unconcerned with justifying its own for-their-own-sake impulses. Its experiments in the newly discovered artform of Batmanime seem to be born entirely of “Wouldn’t it be rad if __?” daydreaming. It’s a refreshing approach to Batman storytelling, as most of the character’s feature-length cartoons are much less comfortable with fully exploring the freedom from logic animation affords them.

17. Ghost Stories For most of its runtime, this movie pretends to be a very well-behaved, Are You Afraid of the Dark?-level horror anthology with open-ended, unsatisfying conclusions to its three mildly spooky vignettes. It turns out that dissatisfaction is deliberate, as it sets the film up for a supernaturally menacing prank on an unsuspecting audience. The film boldly masks itself as a middling, decent-enough supernatural picture for most of its runtime, exploiting audience familiarity with the horror anthology structure to lure us into a false, unearned comfort. I’ve never had a film border so close to outright boredom, then pull the rug out from under me so confidently that I felt both genuinely unnerved & foolish for losing faith.

18. Revenge “Resolving” rape through gory bloodshed may be a faulty narrative impulse, but the way Revenge filters its all-out gore fest indulgences through psychedelic, sun-rotted fantasy is an especially novel mutation of a rape revenge genre formula that must evolve to be sustained (or, better yet, must be destroyed for good). The trick is having the patience in watching the film participate in that despicable genre long enough to be able to explode it from the inside.

19. SuperFly A modernized retooling of one of the most iconic titles in the blaxploitation canon, this low-budget, high-fashion action thriller sets itself up for comparisons that jeopardize its chance to stand out on its own from the outset. The soundtrack may have been updated from Curtis Mayfield funk to Future trap, and some of the nihilism from the original may have been supplanted with wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it is still largely the same story of an ambitious hustler with beautifully over-treated hair struggling to get out of the cocaine business with one big, final score. It’s a gleefully trashy, hyperviolent action cheapie with more of an eye for fashion & brutality than any technical concerns in its visual craft or its debt to stories told onscreen in the past. It’s entirely enjoyable for being just that.

20. Truth or Dare – There are two competing gimmicks at war with each other in the gleefully idiotic trash-horror Truth or Dare?. As suggested in the title, one gimmick involves a supernatural, deadly version of the schoolyard game truth-or-dare that drives the film both to explorations of contrived ethical dilemmas and to even more contrived novelty indulgences in demonic possession clichés. As delightfully silly as a haunted truth-or-dare game is for a horror movie premise, though, it’s not the gimmick that most endeared the film to me. It’s Truth or Dare?’s stylistic gimmick as The Snapchat Filter Horror Movie that really stole my trash-gobbling heart. Films like Unfriended, #horror, Afflicted, and so on are doing more to preserve the history of modern online communication than they’re given credit for, specifically because they’re willing to exploit pedestrian trash mediums like Skype, Candy Crush, and webcasting as foundational gimmicks for feature-length narratives. For its own part, Truth or Dare? has earned its place in cheap horror’s academic documentation of online discourse by exploiting Snapchat filter technology as a dirt-cheap scare delivery system. As silly as its titular gimmick can be, it wouldn’t have deserved camp cinema legacy without that secondary Snapchat filter gimmick backing it up.

-Brandon Ledet

Halloween (2018)

The David Gordon Green-directed, Danny McBride co-written, Blumhouse-produced Halloween is colloquially being framed as the Force Awakens of its respective series. This makes total sense from a franchise storytelling POV. It’s a decades-late sequel to a widely beloved classic that’s meant to reinvigorate interest in its brand by both wiping out the taste of lesser franchise entries of the past in a nostalgic return to basics and setting up a foundational storyline that can excite new fans for future installments, box office willing. However, Halloween (2018)’s context as the Force Awakens of its franchise is ringing true to me in other unexpected, even blasphemous ways. Like with The Force Awakens’s relationship to A New Hope, I found this soft-reboot to be an improvement on the original Halloween film through thoughtful, purposeful revision – although one indebted to nostalgic homage. More enthusiastic appreciators of the John Carpenter original are likely to have a drastically different relationship with Halloween (2018), but that seminal 1978 work has never been a personal favorite of mine. I much prefer the later, weirdo outliers it helped inspire: The Final Destination, Slumber Party Massacre II, Sleepaway Camp, The House on Sorority Row, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, etc. Carpenter’s score for the film and the visual design for serial killer Michael Myers are undeniably iconic, but the overall effect of the barebones horny-teens-hunted-by-a-masked-killer slasher is never as interesting to me as the stranger, more outrageous mutations of the formula that followed. I’m appreciative of Halloween (1978)’s influence on the horror genre, but skeptical of most after-the-fact academic assessments of the film that explain Michael Myers to be the embodiment of pure, senseless Evil as if that were that were a mythology it fully defined. Beyond lip service to philosophical ponderings on the nature of Evil provided by crazed psychologist Dr. Loomis, what’s mostly onscreen in the original Halloween is hot teens being punished for behaving badly (like a decades-late update to the 1950s “road to ruin” pictures where sex = death). The philosophy behind its supposed explorations of Fate & Evil have become part of its lore in the decades since its release, so that this 2018 update to its formula has much more to chew on subtextually, growing from those early seeds of ideas through focused revision.

Halloween (1978) co-writers John Carpenter & Debra Hill rationalized Michael Myers’s targeting of young, wayward teens by explaining him to be the Shape of Evil itself (even billing him as “The Shape” in the end credits), but in the text itself he effectively acts like a typical human serial killer with both prurient & prudish interests. The original sequel to Halloween, Halloween II (1982), attempted to ascribe logic to his targeting of Original Final Girl Lorie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) by making him her brother instead of a random violent stranger. Halloween (2018) ditches that sibling explanation entirely and does more with the Shape of Evil rationalization than what’s enacted in the original. 40 years after the Halloween-night serial murders of the first film, Laurie Strode is a traumatized wreck. She has alienated her family by morbidly obsessing over the murders, still attempting to make sense of Michael Myers’s impulses all these years later, preparing (read: looking forward to) his return for a “final” bout of bloodshed & closure. True crime podcasters, obsessive criminal psychologists, and a few superstitious locals share this belief that a showdown between Michael Meyers & Laurie Strode is Fate – an inevitable, momentous event. This stubborn belief in Fate and the impulse to ascribe meaning to senseless, random cruelty & chaos only leads to more personal tragedy. Laurie Strode, in her need for closure, and others obsessed with understanding the mind of the killer artificially orchestrate this final showdown with a perverse glee, like how Doomsday Preppers not-so-secretly look forward to the Apocalypse instead of approaching it with a healthy sense of dread. When Michael does eventually escape police custody to go on another killing spree (there wouldn’t be much of a movie if he didn’t), he just sort of stumbles around, indiscriminately stabbing at anything. It’s Laurie who insists on reliving her past trauma at his hands because she’s stuck in it, putting her whole family at risk as a result. She gets the supposedly fated showdown with Michael she’s been preparing for at her doomsday compound, but only because she & others obsessed with her case make it happen. In the decades since the original Halloween, people on & off the screen have been attempting to rationalize The Shape’s chaotic, emotionless enacting of Evil. No film has actually made use of that theme in a clear, substantive way as well as Halloween (2018).

The brilliance of this conceit of artificially orchestrated “Fate” is that it allows Halloween to split itself into two separate narratives that satisfy two entirely different appetites. One narrative follows Laurie Strode as she (along with other Michael Myers obsessives) endangers her family in her struggles to process her decades-later Final Girl trauma. The other follows Michael Myers indiscriminately doing his thing, completely unconcerned with the Strode Family drama. It’s in that latter thread where the film has its fun as a nostalgic slasher genre throwback, both gleefully referencing callbacks to previous Halloween films and reliving the horny-teens-punished-for-their-supposed-transgressions formula of the genre Carpenter helped establish (for better or for worse). The payoffs in the Michael Myers murder spree “plot” are much more muted than those of the Strode Family drama. You can only derive so much pleasure from spotting the latex Halloween masks from Season of the Witch or hearing Michael’s original murder spree referenced as “The Babysitter Murders” (the 1978 film’s working title), which I suppose is the less forgiving implication when you refer to this soft-reboot as the series’ Force Awakens. The murders themselves, although they leave a grotesquely contorted body count in their wake, also have a limiting entertainment value; they’re deeply indebted to the usual tones & methods of the traditional slasher. When considered in isolation, the two separate plot threads of Halloween (2018) – the Strode Family drama & the Michael Myers killing spree – feel woefully incomplete. One is too brief in screentime to land with full emotional impact, while the other is too reference-heavy & genre-faithful to feel memorable or distinct. The film’s brilliance lies in the way these separate tracks work in tandem. Cutting between Laurie’s conviction that Michael is staging a showdown with her specifically and Michael’s entirely unconcerned, indiscriminate killing spree in seemingly an entirely different movie creates a fascinating narrative tension. It becomes increasingly tragic as Laurie gets what she wants by artificially forcing the two threads to converge as if it were her Fate.

Like with The Force Awakens, this Halloween sequel/remake/reboot has the impossible task of pleasing everyone, ranging from devotees of the original who want to know how Laurie Strode’s doing 40 years later to first-weekend horror-gobbling teens who just want some jump scares & interesting kills. I believe it did an excellent job of satisfying the most extreme ends of that divide by treating them as separate tracks, then giving them a substantive reason to converge. Fans of the franchise with sky-high standards & hyper-specific requirements of how the Laurie-Michael story should be told (Star Wars-type fans, if you will) are going to be the most difficult to please, since their beloved property has to cede so much screentime to roping in newcomers who needed to be won over for this gamble to work. For me, it’s that exact tension between the original Halloween’s storyline’s need to logically seek closure & the slasher genre’s need to propagate random, senseless violence that makes this film one of the best examples of its franchise – one that has something substantive to say about Fate & Evil in a way the original only motioned towards. And it managed to do so while still playing reverent homage to that seminal work’s iconic sense of style.

-Brandon Ledet

Halloween Report 2018: Best of the Swampflix Horror Tag

Halloween is rapidly approaching, which means many cinephiles & horror nerds out there are currently planning to cram in as many scary movies as they can before the best day of the year (except for Mardi Gras, of course) passes us by. We here at Swampflix watch a lot of horror year round, so instead of overloading you with the full list of all the spooky movies we’ve covered since last year’s Halloween report (and the one before that), here’s a selection of the best of the best. We’ve tried to break it down into a few separate categories to help you find what cinematic scares you’re looking for. Hope this helps anyone looking to add some titles to their annual horror binge! Happy hauntings!

Art House Horror

If you’re looking for an escape from the endless parade of trashy slasher movies & want a more formally refined style of horror film, this list might be a good place to start.

Hereditary  (2018) “I wasn’t in ‘critical film theory’ mode while watching Hereditary. From the opening moments, when we swoop in on one of Annie’s miniatures of the home in which the Grahams reside and the tiny dollhouse becomes Peter’s bedroom, the film captivates the width and breadth of your attention. I wasn’t inspecting the music to see if it mixed high and low frequencies to create tension; I was too concerned about the characters and what was going to happen to them to worry about any of those things, and I’ll be processing the ideas and concepts in the film for days to come, but I can’t get into those without telling you too many of the film’s secrets. Just go see it, if you dare.”

Mandy (2018) – “Nic Cage may slay biker demons with a chainsaw & a self-forged axe in his personal war against religious acid freaks in a neon-lit, alternate dimension 1980s, but Mandy is not headbanging party metal. It’s more stoned-and-alone, crying over past trauma to doom riffs metal, where the flashes of fun & cosmic absurdity are only reminders of how cruelly uncaring & meaningless it can feel to be alive.”

Double Lover (2018) – “It’s a narratively & thematically messy film that gleefully taps into sexual taboos to set its audience on edge, then springs a surreal horror film on them once they’re in that vulnerable state. Double Lover is not your average, by-the-books erotic thriller. It’s a deranged masterpiece, a horned-up nightmare.”

Annihilation (2018) – “As a reader, the currency of your imagination is to be spent on giving life to Area X and its beautifully deadly terrain and inhabitants, and using any iota of that brainspace on the members of Expedition 12 is wasted; in this way, the reader becomes the biologist, with a professional detachment that grows more clinical and distant as the plot unfolds (or unravels). That’s something that simply wouldn’t work on screen, and by giving the biologist and her fellow explorers more depth, Garland changes the theme of the novel from that of emotional distance and disconnection, and perhaps the innateness to humanity of that feeling, into a focus on the (perhaps innate) tendency toward self destruction. That compulsion may, and sometimes does, overtake us while in the guise of something more clinically defined, but rebirth requires the complete destruction, the annihilation, of the self that existed before, down to the cellular level.”

Good Manners (2018) – “On a horror movie spectrum, the film is more of a gradual, what-the-fuck mind melt than a haunted house carnival ride with gory payoffs & jump scares at every turn. It’s an unconventional story about unconventional families, one where romantic & parental anxieties are hard to put into words even if they’re painfully obvious onscreen. Anyone with a hunger for dark fairy tales and sincerely dramatic takes on familiar genre tropes are likely to find a peculiar fascination with the subtle, methodical ways it bares its soul for all to see. Just don’t expect the shock-a-minute payoffs of a typical monster movie here; those are entirely secondary, if they can be detected at all.”

Shock Corridor (1963) – “Anything that predated 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest generally treated those with these illnesses as villains or obstacles, portrayed asylums as bedlams that protected society from vagrants rather than places where one could ever hope to become well again, and if the protagonist was unwell of mind, such sickness was something that could be overcome with machismo or the love of a good woman, not through medical practice or therapy. Not so in the case of Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor (released 1963, one year after the publication of Cuckoo’s Nest, although Fuller had been shopping the original screenplay around since the 1940s), in which mental patients are presented as objects not of derision but as people deserving empathy, not as evil madmen but as victims of society who were pushed to the psychic breaking point and beyond.”

Cyber-Horror

The internet is fertile thematic territory for the horrors of the unknown because its mechanics & functions have continued to feel like a novel, depthless mystery to the average user. Here are some above-average horror films that have shrewdly exploited that modern world mystique for eerie scares.

Suicide Club (2002) – “Packed with the creepy atmosphere of haunted hospital ghost stories, the glam rock excess of Velvet Goldmine, the menacing undercurrent of J-Pop & kawaii culture, multiple cults, a river of gore, and my pet favorite subject of the evils of the Internet, Suicide Club feels like three or four imaginative horror scripts synthesized into one delightfully terrifying vision of modern Hell.”

Perfect Blue (1997) – “Unlike other early Evil Internet thrillers like The Net or FearDotCom, it’s remained effectively creepy instead of devolving into a quaint joke precisely because it got the internet exactly right. It perfectly captures our ongoing, collective online nightmare, despite arriving in a time when the internet was mostly a tangle of blogs & message boards.”

Unfriended (2015) – “I’m starting to feel like somewhat of a phony fan of this movie even though I often go out of my way to promote its legacy. I’ve now watched it on the big screen and on my living room television, but I’ve never bothered to screen it with headphones on my laptop for the Pure Unfriended experience, the way I assume it was intended to be seen. This feels like the inverse of the blasphemy of a young brat watching Lawrence of Arabia for the first time on a smartphone. It’s also further implication that I’m an out of touch old man who has no business taking as much pleasure in these teen-oriented, social media-obsessed genre film frivolities as I do.”

Assassination Nation (2018) – “Besides maybe Revenge, I’m not sure I’ve seen another film match the extremity of its gender politics exploration this year, something that feels just as necessary & cathartic as it is unsettling. It’s a topic that’s now inextricable from the tones & tactics of modern life online, something the film was smart to recognize & tackle head-on. Its overall spirit is prankish & prone to bleak humor, but Assassination Nation is less of a comedy than it is a violent uprooting of cultural misogyny & sexual repression in the Internet Age.”

Truth or Dare? (2018) – “As delightfully silly as a haunted truth-or-dare game is for a horror movie premise, though, it’s not the gimmick that most endeared the film to me. It’s Truth or Dare?’s stylistic gimmick as The Snapchat Filter Horror Movie that really stole my trash-gobbling heart. Whenever demonically possessed participants prompt contestants in the titular game to answer ‘Truth or dare?’ their faces are altered with cheap digital effects to display a sinister, impossible grin. It’s a design that unmistakably resembles a Snapchat filter, which is explicitly acknowledged in the dialogue when a character reports, ‘It looked like a messed-up Snapchat filter.'”

Gothic Horror

A literary-minded horror subgenre that’s sadly grown out of fashion in the decades since its heyday in the Hammer horror & the Corman-Poe Cycle era of the 1960s, but still one with a few minor modern attempts to keep its undead spirit “alive.”

Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) – “Like Roger Corman’s intensely colorful nightmare The Masque of the Read Death, Kill, Baby, Kill is an over-the-top stylistic indulgence that plays beautifully into the heightened atmosphere of the Gothic horror template, making the genre appear as ripe for directorial experimentation as any slasher, space horror, or psychedelic subgenre you could name.”

Beast (2018) – “There’s a distinctly literary vibe to Beast, nearly bordering on a Gothic horror tradition, that almost makes its modern setting feel anachronistic. The intense, primal attraction at the film’s core (sold wonderfully by actors Jessie Buckley & Johnny Flynn) and the seedy murder mystery that challenges that passion’s boundaries make the films feel like Wuthering Heights by way of Top of the Lake.”

Marrowbone (2018) – “Because Marrowbone is so obedient to the tropes & rhythms of a long-familiar genre, most audiences will clue into the answers to its central mysteries long before they’re revealed. However, the details of those mysteries’ circumstances and the effect of their in-the-moment dread carry the movie through a consistently compelling continuation of a Gothic horror tradition. Creepy dolls, cursed money, miniatures, bricked-over doorways, a covered mirror, a menacing ghost, a pet raccoon named Scoundrel: Marrowbone excels in the odd specificity of its individual details and the deranged paths its story pushes to once the protective bubble of its central mystery is loudly popped.”

Mainstream and Traditional Horror

It often feels as if we’re living in a substantial horror renaissance where metaphor & atmosphere-conscious indie filmmakers are revitalizing a genre that desperately needs new blood. These films are a welcome reminder that mainstream horror outlets & genre-faithful traditionalists can still deliver just as much of a punch as their art house, “elevated” horror competition.

The First Purge (2018) – “There’s nothing subtle about The First Purge’s political messaging in its depictions of white government operatives invading helpless, economically wrecked black neighborhoods to thin out the ranks of its own citizenry, nor should there be. We do not live in subtle times.”

The Strangers (2008) When asked, ‘Why are you doing this to us?’ the masked assailants only answer, ‘Because you were home,’ a response so succinctly chilling it was eventually marketed as a tagline. That just-because ethos is a powerful source of terror that largely substitutes any need for a fully-developed plot. Likewise, the look of the killers’ masks is distinctly memorable enough on its own to fill in any void left by their oppressively sparse dialogue. The Strangers dwells in the terror of negative space and the absence of intent, a much more satisfactory source of scares than what’s usually achieved with the home invasion template.”

Jennifer’s Body (2009) – “The bond between adolescent female friends drives just as much of the tension in Jennifer’s Body as the kills and the horrors of puberty. That dynamic is not the flashiest or most immediately apparent aspect of the film; it’s often overwhelmed by the demonic kills and leering at Megan Fox’s physique that would typically be expected of most major studio horrors in the film’s position. It’s what makes Jennifer’s Body unique as a feminist text, however, and its positioning as the heart of the film was entirely intentional on the part of Cody and Kusama. They knew what they were doing, even if the studio behind them did not.”

Shadow of the Vampire (2000) – “As an awkward workplace comedy where a madman pervert auteur struggles to maintain order despite his star actor (who may or may not be a vampire) murdering the rest of his crew, Shadow of the Vampire is damn funny. It pretends to deliver the sophisticated, well-behaved tone of a sober biopic, but everything about Dafoe’s squinched-up, bloodthirsty rat faces & Malkovich’s over-the-top exasperation is hilariously absurd.”

A Quiet Place (2018) – “Disregarding Platinum Dunes’s shaky reputation within the horror community and Cinema Sins-style logic sticklers’ nitpicky complaints about its premise & exposition, it’s remarkable how much personality & genuine familial tension Krasinski was able to infuse into this genre film blockbuster; it’s the most distinctive film to bear Michael Bay’s name since Pain & Gain.”

Weirdo Outliers

Halfway between high art & the depths of trash, these titles occupy a strange middle ground that defies categorization. They also are some of the scariest movies on the list in entirely unexpected ways.

Lair of the White Worm (1988) – The Lair of the White Worm is a hallucinatory free-for-all of sex, violence, and religious blasphemy, the only possible outcome of Ken Russell making what’s, at heart, a simple vampire picture. If you want to get a good idea of the director’s aesthetic as a madman provocateur, all you need to do is compare this reptilian, horndog monster movie to any stately Dracula adaptation out there (of which there are too many, whereas there’s only one Ken Russell).”

Upgrade (2018) – Upgrade has an entirely different plot & satirical target than RoboCop, but the way it buries that social commentary under a thick layer of popcorn movie Fun that can be just as easily read at face value is very much classic Verhoeven. It’s a subversive, playing-both-sides tone that’s exceedingly difficult to pull off without tipping your hand, which is what makes the movie so instantly recognizable as a modern genre classic.

Unsane (2018) – “Like Schizopolis & Full Frontal, Unsane is firmly rooted in the required taste end of Soderbergh’s career, far from the bombastic crowd-pleaser territory of an Oceans 11 or a Magic Mike. Respecting its themes of abuse within the bureaucratic capitalist paradigm or of men in power dismissing the claims of women in crisis is not enough in itself. You must also be down with its indulgence in the moral & visual grime of microbudget exploitation horror. That dual set of interests might be a slim column on the Venn Diagram of Unsane‘s genre film experimentation, but I totally felt at home in that position.”

The Children (2008) – “Kids can be cute, but they’re also a nuisance & a terror to anyone who’s looking to have a quiet moment of relief from familial stress. The 2008 British horror cheapie The Children understands that terror deep in its bones and builds its entire story around the evil & the chaos screaming children bring into the already stressful environment of a holiday get-together. It’s not one of the most tastefully considered or slickly produced Christmas-set horror films I’ve ever seen, but it does capture that exact kind of domestic, familial terror better than almost any film I can name, save maybe for The Babadook.”

Ghost Stories (2018) “Following titles like Trick ‘r Treat & Southbound that have been playing with the structure of the horror anthology as medium in recent years, Ghost Stories presents its own disruption of reality by way of disguise. The film boldly masks itself as a middling, decent enough supernatural picture for most of its runtime, exploiting audience familiarity with the horror anthology structure to lure viewers into a false, unearned comfort. I’ve never had a film border so close to outright boredom, then pull the rug out from under me so confidently that I felt both genuinely unnerved & foolish for losing faith.”

Creature Features

Do you want to see some weird/gross/creepy/goofy monsters? Check out these bad boys.

The Fly II (1989) – “Like the better episodes of Tales from the Crypt and other VHS era oddities of its ilk, The Fly II feels like the exact kind of movie that would grab a child’s attention on late-night cable after their parents fell asleep, then scar them for life with nightmare imagery of melted faces, mutated dogs, gigantic bug-beasts, and milk-leaking husk babies. Its tone can be campy at the fringes (as expected, given the material) but it’s also complicated by the severity of its details, especially its dog torture & Eric Stoltz’s lead performance, which is heroically convincing, considering the ludicrous plot it anchors.”

The Shape of Water (2017) – “Although Pan’s Labyrinth wasn’t created with an American audience in mind, U.S. viewers could reject Vidal and his violence as being part of a different time and place, distancing themselves from his ideologies. Not so with Strickland, who lifts this veil of enforced rhetorical distance and highlights the fact that idealizing and period of the American past is nothing more than telling oneself a lie about history. It’s a powerful punch in the face of the fascist ideologies that are infiltrating our daily lives bit by bit to see such a horrible villain (admittedly/possibly a bit of a caricature, but with good reason) come undone and be overcome. It’s a further tonic to the soul to see him defeated by an alliance comprised of the ‘other’: a ‘commie,’ a woman of color, a woman with a physical disability, and an older queer man.”

The Untamed (2017) – The Untamed adopts the gradual reveals & sound design terrors common to ‘elevated horrors’ of the 2010s, but finds a mode of scare delivery all unto its own, if not only in the depiction of its movie-defining monster: a space alien that sensually penetrates human beings with its tentacles. The film alternates between frustration & hypnotism as its story unfolds, but one truth remains constant throughout: you’ve never seen anything quite like it before.”

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) – “The story is familiar, but flows incredibly naturally from scene to scene with an editing room finesse atypical of this genre territory. The special effects also feel above par for the material, from the head-to-toe detail of the rubber monster suits to the distorted faces of the lighting strikes to the weaponized fog the creatures deploy when abducting their victims. All the surface level narrative details of I Married a Monster from Outer Space are exactly what you’d expect from its title; the attention to detail in its craft just happens to be a cut above.”

Blue My Mind (2018) – “If you’re always a sucker for the femme coming of age transformation horror like I am, Blue My Mind is thoughtful & well-crafted enough to earn its place in the pantheon. If you need to see something innovative or novel in your genre narratives for them to feel at all remarkable, you’re going to have to look much closer to find those flashes in its minute details.”

The Giant Claw (1957) – The Giant Claw is a perfect little B-movie gem, an efficient reminder of why throwaway genre trash from half a century ago is still worth digging through. Its creature design is hideous, its dialogue is inane, and its lofty sci-fi ideas aren’t worth even the paper they’re scribbled on, but The Giant Claw is the rare discarded horror schlock that achieves a kind of sublime stupidity that can’t easily be found in its peers.”

Matt Farley’s Backyard Horrors

A microbudget filmmaker who’s been making Roger Corman-style rubber-suit monster movies with friends in New England for decades to little fanfare, despite churning out consistently endearing horror comedies.

Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! (2012) “The real centerpiece of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! is not any of its monster attacks in the woods, but rather a lengthy wedding sequence staged in a backyard that starts with a petty argument over potato casserole and ends in a minutes-long dance party. Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! is at its core a hangout film, in that it’s a document of friends hanging out & staging gags around the non-existent legend of a non-existent monster & the public triumph of the one man who believed it to be real. It’s the story of Matt Farley’s miniature media kingdom in a microcosm, as it’s the story of a man possessed by a singular obsession finding himself at odds with a world that could not care less.”

Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas (2010) – “The horror genre background setting is a selling point to get eyes on the screen, so that Matt Farley can pursue his true passion with his friends & family (who populate his cast & crew): summertime fun. The slayings are so sparse & delayed that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a microbudget horror film at all. Instead, a weirdly wholesome, D.I.Y. comedy about ‘good natured, harmless pranks’ guide the tone of the film as it gleefully distracts itself with ‘teen’ romances, impromptu basketball games, and frequent visits to the lemonade stand.”

Druid Gladiator Clone (2002) – “A series of non-sequiturs where a shirtless Matt Farley runs wild in unsuspecting New England neighborhoods while trying on various dyed ‘cloaks’ (bedsheets). It’s like an unusually wholesome Tom Green sketch somehow stretched to a 90min runtime.”

Campy Spectacles

If you’re looking for a little irony in your horror comedy yucks, these films tend more towards the so-bad-it’s-funny side of humor, often intentionally. They’re the best we have to offer in terms of bad taste.

Death Spa (1989) – “The movie pushes its evil health spa premise to the most ridiculous extreme it can manage on a straight-to-VHS 80s budget, a dedication in effort & craft I wish Fischer had also poured into My Mom’s a Werewolf. In fact, all movies in all genres could stand to be a little more like the heightened absurdity achieved in Death Spa, not just the ones about health craze fads & pissed-off computer-ghosts.”

Serial Mom (1994) – “There’s a lot to recommend here, but I hesitate to go into more detail for fear of ruining the fun for those who have yet to experience the comic genius. If I had one note to give, it’s that I agree with Roger Ebert’s review of the film; Turner is phenomenal in Serial Mom (that ‘pussywillow’ scene alone manages to be both pure art and pure comedy), but she does play Beverly with such an earnest sincerity that, at times, the sympathy for such an obviously unwell woman supersedes humor, but not always.”

Blood Bath (1966) – “You’d think this cocktail of genres & premises would lead to an incoherent mess, which might partially be true, but the final version of Blood Bath Stephanie Rothman delivered is charming in the way that it’s blissfully insane. Corman threw every one of his tactics on how to cheaply scrap together a picture at the screen in a single go and the result is just as fascinating & amusing as it is creatively compromised.”

All About Evil (2010) – All About Evil is a genuine specimen of gleeful horror fandom. Like with the TV persona of bit part actor Elvira and the stage performances of director Peaches Christ herself, it’s always wonderful when that quality can convincingly intersect with the world & art of drag. For an enthusiastic fan of both like myself, it’s all too easy to get swept up in the joy of that combo.”

She’s Allergic to Cats (2017) – She’s Allergic to Cats hides its emotions behind an impossibly thick wall of ironic detachment. It even goes out of its way to reference infamous so-bad-it’s-good properties like Congo, Howard the Duck, Cat People (’82, of course), and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble to throw the audience of the scent of the emotional nightmare at its core. When its protective walls break down, however, and the nihilistic heartbreak that eats at its soul scrolls ‘I need help’ across the screen, there’s a genuine pathos to its post-Tim & Eric aesthetic that far surpasses its pure shock value peers. It’s a hilarious, VHS-warped mode of emotional terror.”

Mom and Dad (2018) – “Show up for Nic Cage destroying a pool table with a sledgehammer while singing ‘The Hokey Pokey;’ stay for the pitch-black humor about ‘successful’ adults who find their manicured, suburban lives with the right career & the right family bitterly unfulfilling. Nic Cage is literally barking mad in this picture and is destined to steal much of its spotlight, but Selma Blair & Crank director Brian Taylor match his energy admirably at every step. This is a deranged collaboration among that unholy trinity and no family bond, no matter how sacred, is safe in its satirical war path. Mom and Dad may occasionally stumble in terms of pacing or tone, but you have to respect this kind of gleefully taboo social anarchy, especially coming from a comedy.”

Special Features

Every link listed above is for a review we’ve posted on the site. If you’re looking for lists or articles from our horror tag instead, check out our Boomer’s Favorite Horrors by Decade lists, Brandon’s attempt to define the term “A24 horror,” and CC’s comparison of Ken Russell’s Lair of the White Worm adaptation to its Bram Stoker source material.

-The Swampflix Crew

 

Five Decades, Year by Year: Boomer’s Favorite Horror Movie of Each Year Since 1968 (Part Two: 1993-2017)

This feature is Part Two (of Two) in an extensive list of highlights and heartfelt recommendations from the last 50 years of horror cinema . . .

1993: It’s no secret that I love Needful Things. Leprechaun is a camp classic, and my dual loves of Timothy Hutton and George Romero mean that I have to take note of The Dark Half (even if I don’t love it), but the 1993 title belt goes to Guillermo del Toro for his Cronos, the most original take on a vampire film since Martin, although its internal mythology and cinematic eye far surpass that of the earlier film. The details in my mind are scant, but perhaps that’s for the best since I can’t spoil anything for you.

1994: A few years back, I would have called Cemetery Man my favorite horror film of 1994. While I do still enjoy it and find the imagery haunting (and there’s a Rupert Everett shower scene that might make everything in your house pregnant), a recent discussion with other socially progressive horror fans about the film’s admittedly questionable sexpolitick has made me want to revisit the film before I give it an unequivocal go-ahead. As such, I can’t recommend 1994’s Freddy Krueger entry Wes Craven’s New Nightmare enough. Before Craven jumped feet first into the meta-slasher genre, he tested the waters with this horror film about horror films, featuring an intriguing mythology that repositions the Krueger monster in the real world, as the embodiment of an ancient and real demonic entity that has become comfortable in Freddy’s skin. Featuring the return of Heather Langenkamp, who portrayed Nancy in the original film and Dream Warriors, this film serves as the perfect capstone to a trilogy of horror, if you watch the first film, the third, and this one, ignoring the others (except for morbid curiosity about how bad they can be). Brandon even came to a similar conclusion recently.

1995: This was a terrible year for horror cinema. If 1988 was the nadir of horror sequelitis, then 1995 is a close second. And if I told you that 1995 gave us one good thriller at least, you’d probably guess that I was talking about Se7en. But I lied; there were two good thrillers! A forgotten gem, Copycat stars Sigourney Weaver as a psychologist who studies serial killers until she is attacked by a deranged Harry Connick, Jr., leaving her mentally unwell and agoraphobic. That is, until a series of killings under investigation by detectives Dermot Mulroney and Holly Hunter force her to face her terror… before her fears can figure out where she lives.

1996: It’s The Craft. I mean, you knew that it would be, right? Obviously I love Scream, and it’s the better film objectively by a few miles, but there’s so much joy in watching the ladies of this coven succumb to their dark teenage impulses while refracting and reflecting the abuses that they have suffered back onto their teachers, bullies, parents, and other tormentors. There’s also a distinctly unusual story structure at play here that can make the film feel strange when you see if for the first time, like it’s not playing by the rules of cinema, and I love that as well. I have a friend who is working on the remake of the film, should it ever get off the ground, and when he told me about it I made sure to schedule some time to talk about what he had to get right, but the truth is, The Craft should remain untouched, unless you’re slipping it out of a DVD case (or, even better, a VHS sleeve) to watch it.

1997: This was almost the hardest year to make a choice about on this entire list. I share Brandon’s appreciation for Office Killer, and I think that Scream 2 is the rare sequel that is of equal quality to its predecessor. Guillermo del Toro gave ten-year-old Boomer nightmares for weeks from just the trailer for Mimic, and a series of sequels of diminishing quality doesn’t dull the horror of the original Wishmaster. Event Horizon is the real winner of my heart, pitting Sam Elliott and Lawrence Fishburne against each other aboard a derelict spaceship whose experimental propulsion system unwittingly opened a portal to Hell (of course, as one character says, “Hell is only a word. The reality is much worse.”). The film initially garnered an NC-17 rating for its violence, prompting some of the more truly horrifying scenes to be cut down to mere seconds of screentime and presented in flashes, which really only serves to make them subliminal and more horrifying. It’s a film that actually makes you want to reconsider the straight and narrow path.

1998: The post-Scream nineties were full of imitators. 1998’s Urban Legend has a special place in my heart because of its cast (notably future Dead Like Me actress Rebecca Gayheart, the always-amazing Alicia DeWitt, everybody’s first love Joshua Jackson, and Loretta DeVine, whose role here undoubtedly inspired Niecy Nash’s Scream Queens character Denise Hemphill). I also enjoy its attempt to compartmentalize and adopt contemporary folk tales into a basic slasher revenge narrative. Halloween H20 is also a great watch, and is (in my opinion) the best nineties sequel to a horror franchise that originated in another decade, recapturing the feeling of the first film and raising the stakes. That’s all well and good, but the best Scream imitator is undoubtedly The Faculty, which combines the classic pod people/body snatching plot with a commentary on interclique politics and general distrust of authority. It’s no surprise, then, that the script was penned by Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson, but he’s not the only notable name in this incredibly talented cast and crew: Josh Hartnett, pre-Fast/Furious Jordana Brewster, Elijah Wood, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris (who went on to replace the above-mentioned Gayheart on Dead Like Me), and Shawn Hatosy–and that’s just the teenagers! Rounding out the adults in the cast are Robert Patrick, Salma Hayek, a pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart, Famke Jensen, Bebe Neuwirth, and Mrs. White herself Piper Laurie. Also, Usher is there. It’s a shame that this one’s no longer on Netflix, because it’s the perfect nostalgic high school Halloween flick for the ages.

1999: On any other list, The Blair Witch Project would probably be the title you’d expect to see here. I mean, what does it have to compete with? Two dumb giant aquatic creature movies (Lake Placid and Deep Blue Sea)? A Carrie sequel that was twenty years too late and that no one wanted? Two separate remakes of black and white horror classics that should have been left alone (House on Haunted Hill and The Haunting)? The Sixth Sense? Ok, maybe that one. But as unassailable and iconoclastic as Blair Witch was, I’m throwing my weight behind The Ninth Gate, which may come as a surprise to those who are aware of my general dislike for Johnny Depp vehicles (in fact, I didn’t even hate Sleepy Hollow, which also came out this year; it’s actually quite a beautiful film and probably Tim Burton’s last great live action picture). The Ninth Gate is about a rare book dealer who becomes part of a larger conspiracy that seeks to reunite a series of woodcarving prints from various editions of an alchemical text in order to use the clues hidden therein to summon the Devil. It’s a great premise, and the film itself is eerie enough, even before the film categorically answers whether or not the horror facing the protagonist is truly supernatural or merely the manipulation of a reckless cabal of rich fools with cult-like devotion and bottomless pocketbooks.

2000: Ginger Snaps! Ginger Snaps! Katharine Isabelle is a delightful terror in this film that connects the blossoming of womanhood with a “change” of a more… lycanthropic nature. The scene in which one sister tries to help her sister through the removal of a painful and disgusting tail is a particularly nauseating treat. In this nickel-budget indie, everything is pitch perfect: the blandness of suburbia, the power of sisterhood, the uselessness of parents. Seek it out.

2001: Frailty was the directorial debut of the late Bill Paxton, and it’s an interesting experiment in determining which of your friends are purely rational and which are inclined to a more supernatural explanation. Of all the films that annoy me with their revelation that, “surprise,” the rational explanation of the film’s events is incorrect and the supernatural explanation is the correct one, Frailty toes the line with surprising subtlety and grace, never answering the question one way or the other and providing ample evidence for either viewpoint. Unusually, however, my favorite horror flick of 2001 is explicitly supernatural: The Others, in which Nicole Kidman and her poor, ill children are forced to confront the ghosts of the past (or are they?). Although a lot of the film’s surprises have been diminished by parody and overplay over the years (I think that TNT played The Others five times a week from 2003 to 2005), it still holds up, and it continues to reward with every viewing.

2002: The influence of The Ring on the horror films that followed in the next ten years is undeniable, for better or worse, and I was fortunate enough to see 28 Days Later on the big screen at a recent Terror Tuesday so that I could be reminded just how fantastic it is (I found myself listening to “In a House In a Heartbeat” for weeks after). It’s so good. But 2002 truly belongs to the beautiful oddity that is Bubba Ho-Tep, starring camp icon Bruce Campbell as an elderly Elvis Presley, whiling away his final days in an assisted living facility. You see, the “Elvis” who died in 1977 was actually an impersonator with whom the real Presley traded places in order to get some distance from his fame and all the trauma that accompanied it. He’s not the only supposed dead man there either: Ossie Davis plays a wheelchair-bound JFK, whose skin color was changed in order to hide him away from those who would do him harm after his “assassination.” Together, these two decrepit American icons have to fight off a reanimated mummy before it can suck the life out of every patient in their nursing home.

2003: When I started this list last year, I was genuinely perplexed as to what I should list as the best of this year, as virtually every film was complete garbage. Freddy vs Jason? The remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Darkness Falls and Dreamcatcher? I even went so far as to include Haute Tension on my outline with the assumption that I would find the time to watch it (I didn’t). But then a light appeared in the heavens and I saw A Tale of Two Sisters, a South Korean thriller about a young girl named Su-mi who returns to both her secluded family home after psychiatric treatment and to a dependency upon and protection of her younger sister, Su-yeon, against the apparent evils of their wicked stepmother. There’s more happening here than meets the eye, however, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t caught this one. It’s also going to be the last legitimately good horror movie you’ll read about on this list for a while, so settle in.

2004: Yikes. Another shitty, shitty year. There were not one but two sequels to Ginger Snaps in 2004, neither of them really being worth the effort. I almost want to give the credit to Cube Zero, serving as the best sequel to 2007’s Cube, a fantastic master class in making the most of your budget and finding a way to make the most of the “characters in search of an exit” premise. But Cube Zero isn’t Cube, so hat’s off to you, Shaun of the Dead.

2005: When I was in high school, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, the husband and wife team behind The Boogeyman (Snowden’s father was a professor at the college on which my boarding school’s campus was housed). It was an eye-opening experience, as the two talked about how much could change from inception to release. You got the feeling that they were embarrassed by the final product, which transposed their creepy urban horror fairy tale to a remote farmhouse, among other liberties taken with their material. Fun trivia fact for a couple of people you’ve probably never heard of and probably will never think about again: the couple first bonded over their love of Rosemary’s Baby! I’m not saying all this because their film is good, or even passable, but it is indicative of a studio push for more financially safe, viable horror fare that would haunt the 2000s with lazy special effects, tired plotlines, and actors who were moving out of their family-friendly TV programs and trying to find success in film (usually unsuccessfully; who would have thought that the person who would best survive the demise of their WB family drama would be Melissa McCarthy?). I guess I’m giving this one to Dark Water? I mean, it’s not good, but it’s always nice to see Jennifer Connelly getting work.

2006: This was the year of bad remakes. The above-cited Black Christmas and The Wicker Man got a lazy and a crazy remake, respectively, while the remake of The Omen was passable at best and the reimagined The Hills Have Eyes is utterly lacking in charm. I guess that my favorite horror movie of the year was technically Slither, helmed by future galaxy guardian herder James Gunn, but I saw it only once when it was in theaters and, though I enjoyed it at the time, I’m hesitant to throw my weight behind it. Instead, I’ll praise Pan’s Labyrinth, another Guillermo del Toro picture that I’ve always considered to be more of a “dark fantasy” along the lines of a more mature NeverEnding Story or Legend than a horror film, but I suppose its nightmarish imagery means that it falls within the purview of this list. It’s probably his most well-known film in the U.S. that doesn’t have the words “Hellboy” or “Blade” somewhere in its title, so you’re probably already well aware of it, but if you haven’t seen it before, now is the time to strike, especially as its narrative of using imagination and compassion to fight fascism is more important now than it was 11 years ago.

2007: I don’t really care for Planet Terror, but I did love Death Proof. It’s typical Quentin Tarantino: lots of talk about pop culture topics, women with their feet hanging out of car windows and over the edge of booths to be ogled, discussion of great music made by bands you’ve never heard of before, and hilariously over the top violence. But it’s also atypical in that all of the characters are women; I’m not positive, but I think this may even be the first Tarantino that passes the Bechdel Test (it’s been a minute since I saw it, but it’s possible that Kill Bill had a few lines of dialogue exchanged between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu or Thurman and Vivica A. Fox that didn’t explicitly mention Bill, but I can’t be sure). All of the characters are women, and the film also plays with convention by allowing us to slowly get to know a group that is quickly murdered by the killer before a whole car full of new Final Girls appears to make him sorry he was born. It was also the best American, studio-produced film to come along in years (and the last for a while).

2008: Speaking of which, Let the Right One In is my favorite of 2008, as we must reach beyond our domestic crop of films in 2008 to find one that is even worth mentioning. Luckily, this one’s not only passable but superb. In this creepy Swedish vampire film that was as iconoclastic of the genre as Martin and Cronos were in their respective days, the audience witnesses a bizarre (and horrifying) love emerge between a bullied prepubescent and his new neighbor, who is more than what they seem. The same rule applies here as it did with Jacob’s Ladder: if you haven’t already seen this movie, don’t read anything else about it until you get a chance to watch it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed, although you might be a little nauseated.

2009: Our cousins in the U.K. made the best horror (technically thriller) film of 2009 with Exam, a movie about eight people in a room who are competing for a single job opening in a vaguely-defined company that is situated to do important work in a bizarre world. Functioning as a kind of pre-Black Mirror surreal speculative fiction that looks at our world as it is, but slightly askew, the narrative follows the breakdown of these applicants who are faced with the titular exam. There are only a few simple rules: no talking to the Invigilator (exam proctor) or the armed guard at the door, no spoiling their paper, and no leaving the room. Failure to comply means disqualification, which is implied to be more devastating than simply not being considered for the job, but something darker. Much like Cube before it, the minimalist setting and cast allow the film to explore the darker side of human nature in a microcosm of society while standing in opposition to an unknown force.

2010: We have to cross the channel to France for my favorite horror film of 2010: Rubber, a bizarre ode to “no reason” that follows a psychopathic tire as it winds its way across a desert wasteland and encounters a variety of armchair philosophers who make muddled statements to make about the nature of man, art, and other topics. Brandon wasn’t as much of a fan as I was, but everything in his review is  nonetheless accurate, so give that a read!

2011: If you go back through my old American Horror Story reviews on Tumblr or my personal blog (I’m not linking here because, like all writers, I’m a little embarrassed by my early work), you’ll find a fair amount of antipathy for Emma Roberts, whom I eventually came to accept as a passable actress about halfway through the first season of Scream Queens (perhaps because playing an unrepentant bigot with delusions of grandeur and the moneyed background to support it is squarely within her wheelhouse). As such, her presence in Scream 4 should have bothered me much more than it did at the time, but I found her portrayal of Sidney Prescott’s younger cousin to be a good role for her, and the film is great overall. Enough time had passed that the ground from which this franchise was born was fertile again (especially after the mess that was Scream 3), and the story works great within the paradigm of being a soft reboot while also bringing back the characters that we had grown to know and love over 15 years. Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox truly feel like they’ve come home after a long time away, and the additions to the cast like Hayden Panettiere, Mary McDonnell, babealicious Nico Tortorella, and Alison Brie all contribute to a film that’s better than it has any right to be, and better than we deserve. It’s a shame that Scream 5 seems so unlikely now, but if this is where the franchise has to end, then at least it went out with style.

2012: This was the hardest decision on the list. I have nothing but love for Cabin in the Woods (see Brandon’s review here). Not only is it hilarious, scary, full of Easter Eggs, and generally perfect, it’s got many of your fave Joss Whedon collaborators (even if, understandably, your least favorite Joss Whedon collaborator these days is Whedon himself), but I also have a special fondness for it since a theatrical viewing was the first treat I gave myself after completing the grueling process that is graduate school (I was in my seat an hour after I took my last exam. Still, I’m going to have to give this year’s honors to Berberian Sound Studio, a pitch-perfect deconstruction of working behind the scenes on a giallo film, especially if you’re a timid English sound editor whose only previous experience is with tenderly shot pastoral documentaries. From the moment of his arrival, Gilderoy (Tobey Jones) is a nervous ball of anxiety, experiencing culture shock in his friction with a gaggle of aggressive Italian filmmakers (who in turn grow increasingly frustrated with his nebbishness). This only grows more potent as the film on which he is working, The Equestrian Vortex, becomes more intense. His inability to stomach the film’s subject matter becomes a liability; despite being a part of the process (and thus seeing how the metaphorical sausage is made), he descends into a kind of madness that takes him to unexpected places. Both Cabin and Studio are deconstructions of the horror genre that work perfectly as examples of the genre as well, and both are well worth your time.

2013: I didn’t see Odd Thomas, which has been sitting in my Netflix queue for nearly four years now, and although I’m super intrigued by the mechanisms of the creation of Escape from Tomorrow, I haven’t managed to catch that one either. I saw The Conjuring but wasn’t particularly impressed, and although I saw the next films by the directors of the Evil Dead remake and Mama (Fede Álvarez’s Don’t Breathe, mentioned above and Andrés Muschietti’s recent adaptation of IT, respectively), I haven’t seen either of those. I’m going to have to give it to Oculus, strangely enough. I have no love whatsoever for professional wrestling, but I’m obligated to note that WWE films managed to put out a pretty decent horror film. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but it attracted my attention initially for having two actresses from two of my favorite sci-fi franchises, Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck from the reimagined Battlestar Galactica) and Karen Gillam (Amy Pond, companion of the Eleventh Doctor), as well as Australian heartthrob Brenton Thwaites. The ending, and the overall plot, leave much to be desired, but I was pleasantly surprised when, sitting in the theater, I was presented with a horror film that was (a) original, (b) well produced and edited, and (c) genuinely terrifying at parts. It’s certainly nothing to write home about, but the fact that it’s a horror movie down to its bones and doesn’t rely on metatextual references to support it makes it a noteworthy experiment.

2014: While we should all hail Babadook as the ingeniously inventive (and nightmarish) metaphor for depression and loss that it is, there’s something about the feature-length music video that is A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night that captured my heart from the first time that I saw it. I’m more fond of it than Brandon is, in a kind of inverse of our respective feelings about Neon Demon, another film that could be described using the words “feature length music video.” Demon and A Girl Walks are both mood pieces that rely on certain filmic techniques to tell a very short (if deceptively complex) narrative in a long form; after all, each film’s plot could be condensed into a three sentence recap apiece without excising any relevant details. But whereas I found Neon Demon to be a beautiful kaleidoscope of color that grew tiresome somewhere around the eighteenth hour of electronic musical droning, I was never bored by A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, while Brandon felt the opposite. Instead, I felt that 2017’s Raw was the spiritual successor to Suspiria that I wanted Neon Demon to be, while A Girl Walks is the timeless monochrome meditation that my life was missing. So, you know, take it from us(?) and watch neither, or both.

2015: People who know me personally are probably sick to death of hearing me talk about Queen of Earth, which I not only wrote about extensively just over two years ago, but also named my top film of 2015. I am sure that there are those who would object to my definition of this film as a “horror movie,” given that a surface viewing would show that the film lacks the normal hallmarks of that genre. What’s fascinating, though, is that this is a horror movie, with unsettling music, inexplicable and creepy appearances, a sympathetic and intertwined backstory for both our antagonist and our protagonist (if either of the main characters could be defined in such simple and straightforward terms). This is a thriller in which all of the violence is emotional, not physical, and that makes the film all the more haunting.

2016: It’s The VVitch. I mean, what else would it be? This one swept through the entire Swampflix staff like a delightfully distressing flu, earning a spot on every contributor’s list of best films of the year: Alli and Britnee both put it at number two on their respective lists, Brandon put it at number five, and it was my pick of the year. We’ve all written words upon words about it, so I don’t know what else to add to our compendium. Read Brandon’s review here.

2017: Barring the sudden and unexpected appearance of an unforeseeable dark horse candidate, Get Out is going to be my number one movie of the year, followed by the aforementioned Raw as a close second. As such, there’s no argument that it’s also my favorite horror movie of 2007 (again, with Raw as a close second), but I’ll be saving most of my thoughts for the end-of-the-year list. In the meantime, you can slake your thirst by reading Brandon’s review here.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Five Decades, Year by Year: Boomer’s Favorite Horror Movie of Each Year Since 1968 (Part One: 1968-1992)

This feature is Part One (of Two) in an extensive list of highlights and heartfelt recommendations from the last 50 years of horror cinema . . .

1968: There are two truly noteworthy zombie movies that came out in 1968: the undeniable classic Night of the Living Dead and the endearingly awful Astro Zombies (some even consider it the worst film ever made!). But for my money, nothing tops Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby when it comes to existential dread and the anxieties and paranoias of urban living, as well as the socially imposed restrictions that treat women like baby machines with no agency. After fifty years, that at least still rings true, but recent right-backed legal policy coming out of this administration means that we really haven’t come as far as we would like to think.

1969: This wasn’t a great year for horror cinema; in fact, of all the frightful flicks that came out this year, the only one I consider to have much staying power is the pilot for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone follow-up Night Gallery, which aired about a week after Halloween on November 8. Although the program itself is a mixed bag that errs heavily on the side of nonsense and lacks much of the gravitas of its spiritual predecessor, this premiere consists of three shorts: “The Cemetery,” which is genuinely unsettling and cost young Boomer many a night’s sleep; “Eyes,” about a rich woman’s desire to see again, no matter the cost to others; and “The Escape Route,” in which a Nazi gets his just desserts (not to get political two entries in a row, but I have to point out that you can tell this one is fiction because the Nazi gets treated to a fate he deserves, unlike the American Nazis we see now).

1970: 1970 may have been the year that gave us Equinox, a triumph of amateur cinema and Harryhausen-esque special effects, but it also gave the world its first look into the directorial mind of Dario Argento, and longtime readers of the site know I simply can’t overlook The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. See my review of that one here for more!

1971: Argento churned out a second film in less than a year for a 1971 release date with Cat o’ Nine Tails, but I didn’t care for that one as much as Plumage. In fact, in my opinion, the best horror film of 1971 was Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, a psychological thriller that airs on local broadcast television pretty frequently, having lapsed into that gray market that’s not quite the public domain, but may as well be. Despite the fact that it was met with a lukewarm reception by critics of the time, the film is tense and serves as an interesting peek into the times in which it was made. I’m hesitant to say more for fear of spoiling it for future viewers, but it’s well worth the viewing.

1972: The late Wes Craven had a sick thing about mothers. For every Heather Langenkamp protecting her son in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (see Brandon’s revisit of the film here), there are a dozen Amanda Kruegers getting raped by countless asylum inmates in A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors. Last House on the Left is a movie with a distressingly gross approach to sexpolitick, but it is nonetheless an important part of horror cinema history and demands to be seen, if you can stomach it. Acting as a kind of spiritual remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (which was itself an adaptation of a European folktale, as explored in this video by Leon Thomas), this serves as an interesting companion piece to Rosemary’s Baby but in a suburban, not urban setting, and about the other kind of horror that parents are inherently subject to: loss.

1973: The Exorcist may be the most famous horror film of 1973, and was the highest grossing horror movie of all time until its box office earnings were surpassed by IT this year, but although William Friedkin’s adaptation is an undisputed classic, I’ve always found The Wicker Man to be a creepier film with a slower build and a better ending. There’s a distinctly pagan feeling to the film that adds an air of discomfort to the proceedings that the polish on Friedkin’s film can’t match. If you’re only familiar with the title because of the terrible/campy Nic Cage remake, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not tracking down the original.

1974: Although I’ve been known to sing the praises of the late Tobe Hooper’s seminal work (and perhaps his opus, give or take however much credence you lend to the stories that Poltergeist was ghost-directed by Spielberg) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the most truly original horror film of the year was Bob Clark’s underrated holiday masterpiece Black Christmas. Years before Halloween, Clark set this proto-slasher during the winter holiday and focused on the travails of a group of sorority sisters who are at first amused by a series of dirty phone calls before they start to disappear one by one. Every character in this film feels real, from each housemate to their alcoholic house mother, and the non-ending makes the whole thing that much more terrifying. It’s a must-see.

1975: Although there’s debate over whether Profundo Rosso (Deep Red) or Suspiria is Argento’s true masterpiece, Rosso works better as a thriller while Suspiria works more as an art house nightmare. 1975 gave us the former, as well as the remarkably well-done Jaws and the frequently-cheesy-but-still-great Karen Black vehicle Trilogy of Terror, but my absolute favorite horror movie of 1975 is the fantastic The Stepford Wives. Even 40 years later, the central conceit of the film still stands the test of time. Even though a little reworking (as evidenced in this year’s Get Out) can adapt the plot to apply the timeless story of disenfranchisement, gaslighting, and the presumption of moral authority because of social power, the original remains as haunting today as it did the year it was released. The only thing scarier is how terrible the remake was.

1976: It was a tough call between The Omen and what I ultimately chose as my favorite horror movie of 1976, but as much as I love the slow burn of Damien and his various acts of evil, Richard Donner’s story of the birth and early childhood of the Antichrist simply doesn’t affect me as much as Brian DePalma’s Carrie, the first of many, many, many adaptations of Stephen King’s works to hit the big and small screens. Sissy Spacek is simply too captivating an actress to ignore here, and Piper Laurie has never been better than she is in this film as the hysterical mother of the main character. The ending is just as much a part of the public consciousness as the reveal at the end of Psycho, but the fact that the finale is a foregone conclusion makes the film that much more tragic, really.

1977: It’s no surprise that I’m picking Suspiria as my top movie for this year, but because I’ve written about it extensively both here and in other places, I want to take this opportunity to recommend the Japanese horror flick House (a.k.a. Hausu), which is similar in a lot of ways. Both films feature a cast composed almost entirely of women in their later years of schooling, visiting the unusual home of an older woman and facing apparitions and other horrors. But where Suspiria plays the haunted house concept to create a discomfiting dream, Hausu is more comedic, featuring bizarre cat monsters, seemingly hungry pianos, and various other absurdities that I won’t spoil for you here. It’s a must-see, even if you can’t get your hands on the Criterion version.

1978: What a great year for horror! In addition to cult classics like I Spit on Your Grave!, we also had John Carpenter’s undisputed masterpiece of slasher horror Halloween, which introduced the world to Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Meyers. We were also blessed to receive George Romero’s return to the world of his first masterpiece with the improved (your mileage may vary) sequel Dawn of the Dead, which is my favorite of his zombie films, not least of all because it features being barricaded in a mall against the mindless undead horde outside, which was an idle daydream of many children, myself included. But it’s actually Romero’s other 1978 release, the post-modern vampire film Martin, that’s my favorite horror film of the year. It hasn’t aged as well as others (our titular protagonist is a sexual predator in addition to his blood hunger), but it definitely holds a special place in my heart. Despite all of his problems, Martin remains sympathetic, and the film serves as an excellent companion piece to Carrie in its demonstration of the way that the cycle of psychological abuse can take root in a family and repeat over and over again. The audience is consistently confronted with its presumptions and forced to question whether or not there’s anything wrong with Martin other than being told that he is “unclean” for his whole life, and the way that this received abuse harms his psyche and makes him act out in a predictable, if horrifying, fantasy.

1979: Again, it’s no surprise that I’m picking Alien as my best horror movie of 1979, since, as has previously been noted here, it’s my favorite horror film of all time. But I also think it’s important to point out some of the other horror classics, both seminal and forgotten, that came out the same year. Five years after Black Christmas pioneered the “The call is coming from inside the house!” horror element, When a Stranger Calls perfected it. Young Carol Kane, whose career is largely comedic, plays against type as the frightened babysitter who is terrorized by a series of calls that are coming from, well, you know (all I ask is that you avoid the 2000s remake like the plague). 1979 also saw the release of the first Phantasm, a series that grew increasingly absurd as time wore on but is still surprisingly watchable and creepy, and I’m surprised that the Tall Man antagonist has never entered the mainstream horror fandom in the way that Freddy, Michael, and Jason did (although his influence on the Slenderman creepypasta can’t be denied). I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention David Cronenberg’s The Brood, which helped introduce him to a larger audience, and is one of his best works, even in comparison to more successful features that followed, like Scanners and The Dead Zone.

1980: A lot of people would immediately jump to the conclusion that The Shining is the scariest movie of 1980, and they may be right. Kubrick’s opus (give or take a 2001 or a Barry Lyndon or whatever) is probably the best remembered of his oeuvre in the mainstream, and it’s a film that has continued to terrify two successive generations, much to Stephen King’s chagrin. It’s a movie that needs no recommendation, so I won’t bother with wasting your time. However, an oft-overlooked film is Watcher in the Woods, a Halloween favorite of my childhood and beyond, and I can’t recommend it enough. Still, my favorite horror flick of 1980 has to be Altered States, starring William Hurt as a man whose experiments with hallucinogenic drugs and human psychic regression go further than he could have expected and have an effect on him that no one could have foreseen. Although silly at points, it’s a film with unforgettable imagery that will haunt you for weeks after, from multi-eyed goat creatures being crucified in Hurt’s visions to Hurt’s protohuman monster stalking about and making dangerous mischief, Altered States never gets old no matter how many times one sees it.

1981: The best horror movie of 1981 is actually a horror comedy, John Landis’s greatest creation (sorry, Max), An American Werewolf in London. I recognize this, and acknowledge that it is technically and narratively superior to Scanners, but I still find the Cronenberg flick to be more entertaining (if that’s even the word) on a personal level. The likelihood of something horrible happening to an entire generation because of poor pharmaceutical screening and a tendency to treat pregnancy as an ailment or illness has a greater verisimilitude than the possibility of lycanthropy, especially given that Thalidomide was given to pregnant women in Canada, resulting in a huge number of physical birth defects, and this was likely the inspiration for the film. If you’re only familiar with Scanners because of that one exploding head gif, then you’re missing out.

1982: When I first wrote my review of 1982’s Pieces, over two years ago, I stated that it “set the bar high as my new standard for horror comedy.” Although revisitations of the film outside of the Alamo Drafthouse’s Terror Tuesdays yielded a less exciting experience, it’s still a great film. Other films that I’ve reviewed before from this year include Basket Case and Tenebrae, which are both contenders for the best of the year, as is John Carpenter’s pinnacle creature feature The Thing, but my hands-down favorite has to be Poltergeist, which I was fortunate enough to see in 70 MM earlier this year and loved every minute of it. The hysteria of suburbia, the horror of undead meat, the premature celebration over the supposed “cleansing” of the house: this is a movie that sticks with you. No matter how many times I see it, Poltergeist never gets old.

1983: If you’re a Stephen King fan, 1983 was a good year for you, as it featured Lewis Teague’s adaptation of Cujo, the release of John Carpenter’s movie version of Christine, and David Cronenberg’s understated The Dead Zone film. But it’s Cronenberg’s other big release that year, Videodrome, that I hold in the highest regard. Few films have stayed with me as long as this one has, in all of its gruesome body horror. Few films so capture a descent into madness with such style and substance. “Long live the new flesh!” may be the film’s most well known mantra, but my personal favorite comes to my mind most often: don’t be afraid to let your body die.

1984: A Nightmare on Elm Street was released in 1984, and although the series overall is my favorite franchise to be born out of the slasher wave of the seventies and eighties (over Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Child’s Play), and the first film saved New Line Cinema from bankruptcy, it’s not my favorite horror film of that year. Nor is Silent Night, Deadly Night the top contender either, although I have a fondness for its absurdity in spite of its more troubling aspects. The year truly belongs to Night of the Comet, though: a film about two teenage sisters who survive an apocalyptic comet fly-by. Those who were not protected are atomized instantly, while those who were partially protected slowly turn into mutated zombies. Full of some of film’s best post-apocalyptic vistas, great performances from young actors, and a breakneck pace that moves from one situation to another (Mall! Radio Station! Government Bunker!), this is one to catch, even if it is no longer available with the easy access Netflix used to provide.

1985: Although Phenomena is my favorite Argento film, I have to give Fright Night the award for my favorite horror movie of 1985. It’s a film that speaks directly to the heart of every horror fan who let their imagination carry them to places outside the realm of reason, as well as all those who discovered a love of creature features with the help of a host like Elvira or Joe Bob Briggs. Despite a terrible remake featuring David Tennant and the late Anton Yelchin, the legacy of the original (starring Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale, and Chris Sarandon at his most sultry and scary) remains untarnished–except maybe by the sequel.

1986: I have to profess a certain fondness for Slaughter High, a mediocre slasher film that relies on nerd revenge fantasies to carry what little emotional load it has. With a tagline like “Marty majored in cutting classmates,” you’d think that the film could do no wrong, but the plot meanders like a stumbling drunk and the stilted cinematography is boring. It only works as much as it does because of my association with the title (Slaughter is also the name of the town in which I grew up) and some pretty inventive (if occasionally nonsensical) kills. Instead, I’d like to highlight the refreshing Troll, a film that has been completely forgotten in lieu of the infamy of its in-name-only sequel, which has enough of a cult following that it spawned a documentary. The original film starts The Neverending Story‘s Noah Hathaway as Harry Potter Jr. (it’s a coincidence), a teen whose family moves into a new apartment in a building that is haunted by an evil troll. It’s essentially a kid flick that’s light on gore but manages to creep, while also featuring a cavalcade of burnouts, future stars, and others: June and Anne Lockhart, Sonny Bono, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Warwick Davis, and Michael Moriarty.

1987: Another great year, with the first feature to be based on a work of Clive Barker (Hellraiser), the “baby’s first horror movie” of myself and many others (The Gate), and the second film of John Carpenter’s apocalypse trilogy (Prince of Darkness), but no movie from this year captures my fancy and interest quite like Jackie Kong’s Blood Diner, a tongue-in-cheek parody of the more serious 1963 seminal splatterer Blood Feast. Despite only a few titles to her name and a depressingly short career, Kong remains one of the best examples of a successful female horror director, and Blood Diner is her masterpiece. You can read Brandon’s review of the film here.

1988: More pretentious and short-sighted critics than those of us here at Swampflix love to complain about the number of franchise entries and sequels that we’re dealing with in today’s cinemas, but the eighties, and specifically 1988 and 1989, were in many ways worse. This is the year that gave us Hellbound: Hellraiser II, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Friday the 13th Part 6, Halloween 4, Sleepaway Camp II, Return of the Living Dead Part II, Poltergeist III, Fright Night Part 2, Critters 2: The Main Course, Zombi 3 and Phantasm II. It also gave us original flicks like the oft-forgotten Pumpkinhead, Lair of the White Worm, Brain Damage, and Child’s Play, which terrified me more as a child than any other film save perhaps Puppetmaster. It’s been a long time, and the law of diminishing returns has meant that each sequel further watered down the terror of Chucky, but there’s still a lot to be frightened by here, as a child (whose doll is possessed by a murderer and no adult believes him) and as an adult (a parent whose child seems to be committing heinous acts of violence and blaming his toys). It’s a rare film that ages with you and puts you on both sides of the horrific events, and I respect that.

1989: Silent Night, Deadly Night 3! C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D.! Stepfather 2! Sleepaway Camp 3! Beyond the Door III! Howling v: The Rebirth! Amityville 4! Friday the 13th Part VIII! Nightmare on Elm Street 5! Yet another banner year for sequels, and a crop of truly terrible ones at that. It’s no surprise we have to look outside of the American studio system for my favorite horror flick of the year. Sure, Pet Sematary is decent and I think that Leviathan deserves more fond remembrance than it is usually awarded (and I would be remiss if I didn’t note that Society was made in 1989, even if it wasn’t released until 1992), but there’s nothing that came out this year that tops La chiesa. Read my review of it here.

1990: This is a tough one. Rob Reiner’s Misery is an amazing movie, and my one of the best Stephen King adaptations for the big screen, up there with Kubrick’s The Shining, Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone, and DePalma’s Carrie. I also have a real fondness for Tremors, which is as pitch perfect as a deconstruction of giant monster movies as Scream is for slashers. But I have to give Jacob’s Ladder the prize here. Despite having a twist ending that has been spoiled by pop cultural osmosis (like Psycho before it and The Sixth Sense that followed), this is a film of deep sorrow, anxiety, and fear, and it will haunt your dreams for longer that you’d expect. If you haven’t seen it already, skip checking out any information about it and go straight to the video store (analog or online) and see this film before it can be ruined for you.

1991: In my review of last year’s Don’t Breathe, I noted some similarities, both superficial and not, to The People Under the Stairs, one of the oft-overlooked films of Wes Craven’s career. It’s hard to recommend this film without giving away too much of its central thesis, but it is noteworthy that the film tackles race with a surprisingly deft hand for a director who was both white and 50 years old (and thus the epitome of “The Man”) at the time of production. This isn’t even getting into the fact that Craven was never a man of great subtlety (see the above discussion of Last House on the Left). Somehow, he managed to create a film that is more complex than the larger part of his body of work while also expressing frustration at gentrification, the forced creation of urban ghettos, and the rise of the slum lord. It’s not only his most nuanced work (comparatively), it’s also his most socially relevant.

1992: And speaking of socially, relevant my favorite horror movie of 1992 is the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Nah, I’m just kidding, it’s Army of Darkness! Nah, still kidding, although those are both a lot of fun. No, I’m talking about Candyman, which takes the childhood game of Bloody Mary and transposes it to Chicago’s South Side, giving the title monster, played by Tony Todd, a sympathetic back story in which he was murdered by a racist mob because of his interracial marriage. That aspect of the story is mostly overlooked in order for director Bernard Rose to create some of the most enduring horror imagery of the 1990s. That rib cage covered with bees? Geesh. It’s no surprise that contemporary horror like American Horror Story continues to use elements of this film, including not only the bee imagery that is an integral part of this year’s Cult storyline, but also protagonist Helen’s leitmotif, composed by Phillip Glass, which the show uses often.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Ray Bradbury’s Return to Tormenting Suburban Children in The Halloween Tree (1993)

There’s something instantly familiar about the spooky, vintage Midwest suburbs of the Ray Bradbury-penned feature Something Wicked This Way Comes, our current Movie of the Month. Even watching the film for the first time in my 30s, I felt as if it had already been in my life forever, despite my familiarity with Bradbury’s work typically falling solidly under sci-fi, not horror. The spooky bygone suburbs of the film felt very much akin to horror movies I had grown up with as a kid, titles like Jumanji & The Monster Squads, a setting that’s been evoked & praised in so many Ebert reviews I don’t even know where to start citing them. Apparently, it’s a setting Bradbury had mentally returned to often himself, a spacial & temporal locale he had framed many of his children-targeted short stories & novels in, despite only one being adapted to a major motion picture release. Something Wicked This Way Comes does have some Bradbury-penned company in its nature as a feature length adaptation, though, just not anything with the financial backing of a live action Walt Disney production. Instead, its closest spiritual relative in nostalgic suburb horror would be a made-for-TV animated feature, a much cheaper mode of entertainment all around.

The Halloween Tree looks like an animated recreation of Something Wicked This Way Comes’s exact tone & setting, though it feels slightly behind that work in every way. Its fantasy novel source material was written in 1972, ten years behind Something Wicked’s 1962 publication date. It was produced as a late Hanna-Barbera animation, while Something Wicked was working with Disney dollars, which go a long way. Even in its central themes, which more or less amount to a history lesson on The True Meaning of Halloween, it pales in comparison to the much more complex subject matter of its predecessor, which explores intangible subjects like fear & desire. It’s difficult, then, to think of The Halloween Tree as anything but a minor work by comparison, but that doesn’t mean it’s charmless or worth excluding from the Something Wicked legacy. Bradbury himself was at least invested in the work’s value, providing a storybook-style narration for its framing device. The hand-drawn animation is much more complex than most Hanna-Barbera productions are afforded. Speaking from a personal standpoint, I’d also say it was nice to see a plot structure usually reserved for The True Meaning of Christmas applied to a holiday I actually give a shit about. The Halloween Tree feels somewhat like a scrappy echo of Something Wicked (which was something of a bomb itself), but it’s got enough of its own charm & personality to justify its existence outside that superior work’s shadow.

The spooky Midwest suburb setting The Halloween Tree shares with Something Wicked really only serves as a framing device. A group of kids preparing to trick ‘r treat on Halloween night see their sick friend’s ghost running through the woods just outside their suburb. Following his specter, they bump into a creepy old ghoul (voiced by an unrecognizable Leonard Nimoy) who seems to be threatening to claim the boy’s soul as he succumbs to appendicitis complications. In the process of bartering for their sick friend’s existence, the children are mocked for not understanding the meaning behind their various Halloween costumes: a mummy, a witch, a skeleton, etc. Chiding them, “All dressed up for Halloween and you don’t know why,” the old ghoul takes them on a temporal road trip through historical Halloween-type cultural traditions that relate to their costumes. Vignettes touching on Egyptian mummification, Stonehenge, witch trials, Día de Muertos, and so on provide meaning to the children’s various costume choices as they inch closer to saving their friend’s life through bleeding heart negotiation tactics. Much like with Something Wicked, the resolution to the threat of death is much more saccharine than the stakes appear during the conflict but the film could still potentially haunt an audience who catches it at a young enough age. The two movies’ real connection, though, is the way Bradbury makes a small crew of suburban scamps feel as if they’re the only kids in the world, saddling them with the responsibility of waging a metaphysical Good Vs. Evil battle.

To be honest, if I weren’t watching this film on Alli’s recommendation during our Movie of the Month conversation or I wasn’t aware of Bradbury’s involvement, I’m not sure The Halloween Tree would have immediately reminded me of Something Wicked This Way Comes. My mind likely would have gone more readily to Over the Garden Wall, a recent animated story that shares The Halloween Tree’s religious reverence for Jack-o-Lanterns & Halloween costuming. The similarities shared with Something Wicked are not at all difficult to reach for, however. By the time the gang of suburban tykes reach an abandoned circus where the attractions are haunted by an evil magic, Bradbury’s wicked fingerprints are detectable all over it. The most immediately noticeable difference in this version of his aesthetic is that one of the kids is a girl, which feels out of line with Something Wicked’s distinctive boyhood POV. That detail was apparently added in its adaptation from book to screen, a smart choice that helps broaden its appeal. For anyone looking to introduce children to horror as a genre, you could probably do no better than a double feature of these two Bradbury-penned works after a long night of trick ‘r treating under suburban streetlights. He’s got a welcoming touch to his spooky children’s fare that should prove to be invitingly universal, even if the settings are so consistently specific it’s difficult to tell them apart from work to work.

For more on July’s Movie of the Month, the Ray Bradbury-penned Disney horror Something Wicked This Way Comes, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s look at its Bette Davis-starring predecessor, The Watcher in the Woods (1980).

-Brandon Ledet

Offerings (1989)

It seems silly to seek out a decades-old, cheaply made slasher just to saddle it with a negative review, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the unassuming, disappointingly slight feature Offerings. Anytime I watch one of these decades-old cheapies I’m always rooting for the film to succeed, trying to find something to celebrate. Offerings is the worst kind of disappointment in that way. It promises a lot very early on in terms of its potential as light, bloody entertainment, then punishes you for holding out hope by devolving into a painfully dull waste of time. And now I find myself in the unseemly business of digging a film up just to bury it all over again.

Part of what makes Offerings such a disappointment is its dedication to skating by as a blatant Halloween knockoff. We start with a very young child whose strange, anti-social, serial killer-esque behavior is blamed on his absent, abusive father by a mother who hates the sight of him. He’s similarly tormented & ostracized by neighborhood bullies his age who take a lighthearted prank too far by startling him into falling down a well. Ten years later, the child is a full grown homicidal maniac, with intense facial scarring from the incident, who breaks out of a mental institution to hunt down his childhood tormentors. Everything else is more or less a carbon copy of Michael Myers lore, right down to a score John Carpenter could’ve easily won a lawsuit over.

What’s frustrating about Offerings is that it shows flashes of inspiration that reach far beyond its ultimate Halloween Lite results. The hook of its title, for instance, is that the crazed, vengeful killer torments his bullies by sending them pieces of his victims as “gifts”: a finger, an ear, “sausage” on a pizza, etc. Also, while it’s far short of the meta-commentary of films like New Nightmare or Cabin in the Woods, the film does playfully hint to a kind of horror film self-awareness that could’ve been interesting if pushed a further. While watching TV, one character asks, “How come people in these horror movies always do such stupid things?” In a similar scene, a victim is hung to death outside a living room window while his friend eats popcorn, blissfully unaware. In my favorite bit, the killer ties his first victim down in a garage and sets up various power tools to do the deed, but they fail to deliver due to dead batteries or too-short power chords, so he uses a manually-cranked vice instead.

If Offerings stuck closer to the novelty of its titular premise or fully committed to the meta-comedy of its stray self-aware gags it’d be the exact kind of forgotten horror cheapies I usually strive to champion. As is, the film feels like a dispiriting waste of potential. About halfway through its runtime the killer stops tormenting a single set of “teens” in their confined space setting and the film devolves into an insufferably dull police procedural about tracking the monster down. As for the “teens” themselves, that ten year time jump must’ve been the roughest decade on record; they go from Little Rascals to Little Methadone Clinic in the blink of an eye.

Ultimately, Offerings feels like an excuse for that group of goofballs to down a few beers and hang out with the result of filming a horror movie in the process being treated as an afterthought. Sometimes that kind of hangout cheapie can be effortlessly charming, like with the recent Troma release B.C. Butcher. Sometimes, it can feel like a sloppy, shot-for-its-own-sake home movie, like with Desperate Teenage Lovedolls. Offerings firmly fits in that latter category, but it’s all the more frustrating for occasionally threatening to break free from its Halloween cover version roots and actually put forth a noticeable, praiseworthy effort. God forbid.

-Brandon Ledet