31 Days of Halloween (2018): Lovecraftian Rock Opera

If there’s one thing fans of Lovecraft love more than his work, it’s criticizing that work, and “The Dreams in the Witch House” has had its fair share. From August Derleth to S.T. Joshi, Lovecraftians have heaped scorn upon the novella. De gustibus non est disputandum and all that jazz, but I find these attacks to be baseless, founded more in critics’ own views of what Lovecraft should be than what he sometimes is. Just as Joshi criticizes another Lovecraftian masterpiece, The Dunwich Horror, as an “aesthetic mistake” that presents a “stock good-verses-evil scenario,” there are some in the horror community who reject the good and evil paradigm altogether in Lovecraftian fiction, particularly when the good guys win.

“The Dreams in the Witch House” not only presents a struggle between good and evil, it contains elements that truly terrify some Lovecraftians—Judeo-Christian concepts. It also has some of the best characters in Lovecraft’s fiction—Brown Jenkin, Keziah Mason, and Walter Gilman. We have call-backs to the Salem witch trials, Cotton Mather, and Judge John Hathorne, Walpurgis Night playing a central role, the appearance of the Necronomicon, Book of Eibon, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, and a cutting-edge mathematical explanation for magic and the realms of the Old Ones.

That’s a lot to recommend it, and perhaps it’s no surprise that two of my favorite interpretations of Lovecraft’s work came from this story—the Master of Horror episode directed by Stuart Gordon and the unparalleled H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s production of Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera. Both are great, but the rock opera is brilliant. The HPLHS cut no corners here. Brian Sammons, horror critic and author, laid it out best:

First off, the HPLHS got some talented ringers to back them up on this massive, musical Mythos odyssey. The opera has 16 tracks that feature over 17 singers, including Jody Ashworth (The Trans Siberian Orchestra, which was original formed by members of the aforementioned Savatage), Alaine Kashian (Broadway’s Cats) and Swedish metal phenom Chris Laney as the wonderfully wicked Brown Jenkin. That not enough musical street cred for you? Well, how about this, the album features 14 musicians, including Bruce Kulick (former KISS guitarist) and Douglas Blair Lucek (guitarist for W.A.S.P.). Yes, this album has links to both Savatage and W.A.S.P. Oh, you know I was a happy metalhead to learn that.

So yeah, this is not just your brother throwing something together in his backyard. Over the next three days, we’ll walk through this masterpiece, song by song. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.

  1. The Confession/Arkham Overture

Our adventure begins with Frank Elwood taking confession with Father Inwanicki, setting up that our story will be told in the form of flashbacks. The intro establishes the overall feel for rest of the production, casting Arkham as a place of darkness and mounting dread, while introducing us to some musical riffs that will repeat themselves throughout.

  1. Dreams in the Witch House

The first real track is an ensemble blitz laying out the nature of the witch house and the contours of the story. Frank Elwood leads off, followed by the introduction of Walter Gilman himself. A chorus of characters serenades us, and then, like a canon shot, Alaine Kashian makes her first appearance as Keziah Mason, and you know you’ve got something special on your hands.

  1. Higher Fire: Breaking Me Down

We learn a little bit more about Gilman and how committed he is to the study of mathematics and the other dimensions that may surround us. Contrast that with Joseph Mazurewicz, who is equally committed to opposing the forces of evil he sees gathering in anticipation of Walpurgis Night. Gilman thinks that Mazurewicz is little more than an annoyance, part of the endless cacophony that is slowly driving him insane. But Gilman is starting to see that the very walls that surround him may hold the key to his studies into the strange geometries that make up the world.

  1. Bridge to The Stars

Gilman lays out the cosmic theory he is pursuing, as he attempts to find a way to pass between this dimension to the next. His professor and classmates are initially skeptical, but as Gilman lays out the theory, they start to believe. The chorus that follows reminds me of something out of Rent.

4 stars

  1. The Nightmare

Even as Gilman’s theory comes closer to reality, the pressure of his work has begun to invade his dreams. In those nightmares, he walks the path of ancient lost cities of impossible geometries and sees unspeakable things. Gilman the scientist finds himself turning to his faith to protect him from the madness around him. As he calls upon his Lord, a new voice enters, that of Kaziah Mason.

3 stars

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): Masters of Short Horror

Few genres lend themselves more to the short form than horror. The novel may provide a broader canvas on which to paint a story, but the short form allows for scares that are more intense, more concentrated, and more likely to frighten. Maybe it’s that maintaining tone and atmosphere is harder over a hundred pages than over ten. Maybe it’s that familiarity breeds contempt. Better to get in and get out and not think about things too much. Whatever the case, whether it’s Blackwood or Poe or Lovecraft or even modern masters like King, the best horror often comes in bite-sized chunks.

With that in mind, below are three authors of short horror out there today that I admire. I wish I could write like these guys. (Though if you want to check out my own short fiction, pick up The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument.)

36530066Ronald Malfi

I haven’t been shy about my love for Ronald Malfi. His novels are tremendous, and if you haven’t read December Park, do yourself a favor and pick it up. But his short fiction is out of this world. The Mourning House is one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve ever read, long, short, or in between. Now Malfi is out with a collection that you won’t put down once you pick it up. Check out We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone.

Laird Barron

61rnaxisajl-_sx331_bo1204203200_A rock star in the horror community–particularly with those who have a penchant for Lovecraft–Barron can be a challenge for those who are unfamiliar with his unique style.

But if you stick with it, Barron gets in your bones, and you begin to see things in a different light. Darkness creeps into your nightmares and sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s real and what is illusion. But in the end it does not matter, for the same beautiful thing awaits us all.

J.R. Hamantaschen

81kvua2tzdlForget that he’s named after a cookie, Hamantaschen is a master of short-form horror. Probably one of the lesser known names on this list, his You Shall Never Know Security is stunning. It’s one of the books that I still find myself thinking about on occasion, years after I last put it down. Now Hamantaschen is out with a new book, A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe, that is equally terrific. Check him out, and let me know what you think in the comments. 

 

 

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): The Last Three People You Meet in a Zombie Apocalypse

The Death Trap

Zombie apocalypses are not fair.  Who lives and who dies is as much dumb luck as anything else.  Being in the right place at the right time.  Maybe hooking up with a leader who’s willing to keep you alive.  When things go to hell, your chances at survival—at least initially—will be heavily dependent on pure, stupid, chance.  And that means that there will be a lot of idiots running around.

Maybe they are the kind of person who makes a lot of noise when they need to be quiet.  Maybe they are the person who is supposed to guard the door and let you in after you go out to get water, but then they get distracted.  These are the guys who always come out of hiding thirty seconds too soon, who start a fire in the middle of the night, who fire a gun to kill a single zombie when a blunt instrument to the back of the head would do just fine.  Sometimes they refuse to accept reality, constantly arguing that the zombies can be saved or that the group shouldn’t kill the guy who has been bit and is clearly five minutes from being a full blown Zed (note the Canadian, eh.  I’m inclusive.)  Or maybe they are the girl who insists on going after the darn dog when it runs off into the midst of the zombie horde.  Or maybe they are the dog.  (I’m looking at you Chips.)  Either way, two things are certain.  They aren’t making it to the end of the movie/zombie apocalypse, and neither are you.

The Survivor

Then there is the survivor. It may seem trite, but there’s only one type of person who survives to the end of a zombie apocalypse. It takes someone who is resourceful, someone who has some of the characteristics of the leader without the constant need to be the hero. The survivor can make it on his own when he needs to, but he seeks out a good group of other survivors as soon as he can, recognizing that no one can live on their own. He has a gun and can build a fire. He is willing to kill when he has to, and he recognizes that zombies are not people. He also knows that while only the survivors survive, they don’t always. The cruel luck of the zombie apocalypse will strike them down as indiscriminately as anyone else. But if humanity is to rebound, it will be built upon the survivors.

So that’s five. Whatever could the sixth one be?

Zombies

Whenever people make this sort of list, they always forget about zombies. But depending on the type of zombie uprising we are dealing with, the undead may be the only thing you see.

It’s commonly accepted among zomboligists that there are three stages of zombie infestation. The first stage consists of one or two isolated cases, at most a small group. Shocking yes, and no doubt the existence of a reanimated corpse would change everything about the way we see the world. But as far as a threat, a Class I event is easily contained and no great threat to the majority of people.

The second stage of a zombie rising affects an area as large as a city. Much worse than a Class I infestation, thousands will die and whatever city is hit will be lost. But unless you live in the city affected, you’ll probably be OK during a Class II event and the military will eventually regain control.

Not so with a Class III event. Class III is the apocalypse. Class III is the end of the world. What are the chances you will survive? What are the chances you will even know what is happening before you come face to face with a zombie? And when that happens, what are you going to do?

Probably get bit.

And that’s the thing. Most people won’t survive the zombie apocalypse. No matter how well thought out your plan, you probably won’t even get to put it in place. Or something simple will throw you off. You’ll be on vacation. You won’t be able to get back to your apartment and pick up your weapons. Even if you do survive, you are going to see zombies. You are going to have to kill them. No one will survive the zombie apocalypse unscathed. In the end you’ll have to choose—beat um or join um.

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): The First Three People You Meet in a Zombie Apocalypse

The rebirth of zombie horror has largely faded, with The Walking Dead still popular but sputtering towards an end. But as we all know, zombies never stay dead for long. And since we all know the zombie apocalypse is inevitable, I wanted to share with you my thoughts on the kind of people you are likely to meet when it begins–assuming you aren’t dead yet.

The Leader/Hero

“Come with me if you want to live.”

The leader is the guy we all think we are going to be.  He (or she) is the swashbuckling, charismatic, “come with me if you want to live” guy.  The one who always goes into the “abandoned” house first.  The guy who kills the kid after he’s been bit when everybody else is saying they should give him a chance, just to see if he is immune.  The leader decides which mythical zombie-free land the rest of the group will seek out.  Cause there’s always a mythical land.  Amusement park.  Farm.  Island.  Boat.  Whatever.   It’s there, somewhere just beyond the next rise, and the leader is going to find it.

Everybody wants to be the leader.  Everybody wants to star in their own zombie flick.  We all assume we are the important ones, the guy who is going to save humanity, get the girl, and repopulate the species.  But here’s the thing, you probably aren’t, and you probably don’t want to be.

The thing about being a leader is somebody has to follow you.  When you draw that line in the sand, somebody has to cross it.  Otherwise, you’re just another loner.  And besides, how long do you think you’re gonna last anyway?  How many times can you kick down that door before somebody bites off your leg?  How many times can you be the guy who stays back to hold off the horde while the others escape before you don’t make it out?  The leader is living on borrowed time.   Notice all those pictures?  What do they have in common?  They’re all leaders, and they’re all dead.*

*OK, technically Rick is still alive . . . for now.

The Loner

The loner is, in many ways, the opposite of the leader. He has no interest in protecting the group or saving humanity. His priority is always numero uno. He probably has a military or survivalist background, is heavily armed, and either has a stash of food and supplies or is able to acquire them easily. In the movies, the loner is a leader in disguise, the gruff fighter with a heart of gold just waiting to find the reason to step forward. In reality, the loner may occasionally hook up with others, but only when it is beneficial to him. He will also drop them at the first opportunity, preferably when the zombies need something to distract them.

The problem with the loner is he has no one to rely on when things go wrong. The simple fact of the matter is that it’s hard to survive in a zombie apocalypse. You gotta sleep. Who’s going to keep watch? What if you injure yourself? What if there are more zombies than one gun can possible hold off? No, the loner might live longer than the leader, but at some point, he’s gonna slip up. And when he does, that’s the end.

The Prophet*

You know the prophet. He’s the guy who has been preparing for the zombie apocalypse his entire life. He can’t wait till the day comes. It’s his one chance to do something great, to be something consequential. You are carrying a shotgun? He’ll have a Shaolin Spade because he knows that it represents the perfect combination of speed, stealth, killing prowess, and weight of any weapon out there when it comes to zombie destruction. The prophet already knows where he will hold up for the duration of the zombie apocalypse, and if that place is overrun, he has at least three back up plans. The prophet knows everything there is to know about zombies, has read the Zombie Survival Guide at least three times, and could teach a class on the subject, if only a school was awesome enough to offer it.

You would think that the prophet would be the most likely to survive, but you would be wrong. Yes he’s got all the info. Yes he’s got all the plans. But you know, he probably can’t follow through with them. First of all, prophets tend to be nerds. I mean seriously, how many star linebackers are sitting around thinking about what to do during the zombie apocalypse? And that’s another problem, he probably spends a lot more time thinking about what he would do in the case of a zombie invasion than actually preparing for it. I mean come on. Do you really think he has a Shaolin Spade?

Funny thing about the Prophet though.  He never shows up in movies.  In movies, nobody has ever heard of zombies.

*Sadly, I would probably be a prophet.

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): Songs of Horror

Today on Songs of Horror, the three best songs about vampires that I know of. The first is a classic by Gothic rock band Bauhaus. The second is a more stylized story of love in a graveyard. And the third is the most depressing love song you’ll ever hear. Enjoy!

First, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus.

Now enjoy “A Boy, a Girl and a Graveyard” by Jeremy Messersmith.

And finally, “If We Were Vampires” by Jason Isbell.

 

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): Lovecraft and the Supernatural

The following essay was first published in Dark Discoveries magazine.

Ask a horror fan to name their favorite purveyor of the supernatural, and H.P. Lovecraft might show up high on their list. And that raises a curious question. Is Lovecraft a writer of supernatural fiction at all?

ixpshot 083I can feel your questioning looks. After all, Lovecraft’s writing is awash with gods and goddesses, with beings that can live forever, transcend time and space, and bend men’s minds to their will. He wrote an essay called “Supernatural Horror in Literature” for Nyarlathotep’s sake!

And I’ll grant you that. But stick your spades in again and dig deeper. Walk with me down this path a little way, and let’s see what we can find. What is the foundation of the cosmic mythology that August Derleth came to call the Cthulhu Mythos? Is it magic? It’s certainly something unusual, out of the ordinary. But is it supernatural? Is it mystical? Is it miraculous?

For the most part, the answer to all those questions is no.

Lovecraft, in his seminal essay on supernatural horror, began with a statement that is as profound as it is obviously true: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” But the unknown need not be the mystical or the magical. It could just be…the unknown. The empty, darkened alleyway, the black depths of the sea, the empty, long abandoned mansion—they frighten us, whether we believe in ghosts and ghouls and spirits or not, because we simply do not know what they might hold. Think of it this way—there’s nothing more frightening to college freshmen than a test on a subject they haven’t studied. There’s a reason that dream haunts long after classes have ended.

Take that thought and expand it. Stretch it out and see where it goes. Take it to its farthest limits. They called the stories Lovecraft wrote cosmic horror for a reason, and many of his tales represent the first horror science fiction. The great unknown of the wider universe can hold many secrets. And just as a technology, sufficiently advanced, will appear magic to the uninitiated, the beings that walk in the vastness of space will appear gods to humanity.

Our perspective, after all, is limited to the earth we inhabit and the things within it. We can imagine something beyond that, but most philosophers would tell you that even our imagination cannot escape the natural world and the limits of our experience.

There’s a reason most of the aliens on Star Trek all look basically the same. There’s a reason that every monster is either an amplification or an amalgamation of something we already fear. A giant is just a really big guy. A dragon is a snake or dinosaur with wings that can breathe fire. Even in Cthulhu, we see the combination of a dragon like thing and a cephalopod. Our imaginations simply cannot comprehend of something that is truly beyond.

And that’s what Lovecraft was reaching for. In his essay, “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” he wrote this:

I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear.

Interestingly, from this perspective Lovecraft seems far more intrigued with stretching the bounds of human understanding than he does on writing a good horror yarn. That already puts him in a different stance than your run-of-the-mill writer. Most of us start of wanting to scare, and if we manage to make some deeper statement than that along the way, all the better. Not Lovecraft. His unflinching focus on what causes fear and not the fear itself is one of the reasons few can match his vision.

One wonders if it is also one of the reasons that Lovecraft’s writing is decidedly non-supernatural. Lovecraft doesn’t need ghosts and ghouls to scare you. He knows that the unknown is good enough. And his interest in the cosmic keeps his feet firmly grounded on earth. So his “gods” aren’t really gods at all. Or, I should say, they are only gods to us because we cannot comprehend them. They transcend space and time in a way we cannot comprehend, but their actions need not be seen as magical. They can live so long that death seems impossible, but that doesn’t mean they are immortal. They are responsible for the mighty cities of antiquity, but they built them with methods we simply cannot understand.

There’s an aside here that’s worth exploring, one you may have already caught on to. Does that sound a little bit like the Ancient Alien Theory? In fact, does it sound quite a lot like the Ancient Alien Theory? Before there was Zecharia Sitchen or Erich von Däniken or Giorgio Tsoukalos, there was H.P. Lovecraft. He even had his own Planet X, his own Niburu—Yuggoth. In fact, one noted critic of the Ancient Alien Theory, Jason Colavito, argues convincingly that today’s obsession with ancient aliens can be traced directly to H.P. Lovecraft himself. Check out his book, The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft And Extraterrestial Pop Culture, for the details.

It’s perhaps not surprising then that the Ancient Alien Theory itself also denies the supernatural. Stories of gods, angels, and heavenly visitors are explained as simple misunderstandings. The primitive peoples that encountered these beings could not understand them, so they made up stories about gods and goddesses and developed elaborate cults and rituals to worship them and keep the stories alive. Remind you of the Cthulhu Mythos? It should.

It’s an open question whether Lovecraft intentionally avoided the supernatural or if it simply sprang from his tendency to embrace scientific theory over religious belief. And it is not the case that supernaturalism is absent entirely from Lovecraft’s cannon. There are stories where it makes an appearance, sometimes a dominant one—“In The Vault” and “The Hound”, for instance. But they are the exception, not the rule.

Take one of this stories that would appear, on the surface at least, to be one of his most supernatural—“The Dreams in the Witch House.” The story centers, after all, on a witch—who fears crucifixes no less— and has a human-faced, rat familiar. But the story is actually quite striking for how grounded it is in exotic scientific theory from the very first. Our hero, Gilman, is a mathematician, and he has determined that Keziah Mason—noted witch who fled Salem ahead of the hangman’s noose—may have possessed knowledge far more important than common spells. Lovecraft writes:

Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain; and when one mixes them with folklore, and tries to trace a strange background of multi-dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of the Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension… There was much in the Essex County records about Keziah Mason’s trial, and what she had admitted under pressure to the Court of Oyer and Terminer had fascinated Gilman beyond all reason. She had told Judge Hathorne of lines and curves that could be made to point out directions leading through the walls of space to other spaces beyond, and had implied that such lines and curves were frequently used at certain midnight meetings in the dark valley of the white stone beyond Meadow Hill and on the unpeopled island in the river. She had spoken also of the Black Man, of her oath, and of her new secret name of Nahab. Then she had drawn those devices on the walls of her cell and vanished.

Now that’s some heady stuff. Essentially, Lovecraft is describing Keziah as a member not of a witch-cult, but some black magic mathematician’s club that possessed knowledge far beyond our own, knowledge she could use to warp space and time. Her ability to appear and disappear at will was the result of mathematical formulae, not spell books and black cats. Later in the story, Lovecraft discusses the consequences of such a discovery.

It was also possible that the inhabitants of a given dimensional realm could survive entry to many unknown and incomprehensible realms of additional or indefinitely multiplied dimensions—be they within or outside the given space-time continuum—and that the converse would be likewise true. This was a matter for speculation, though one could be fairly certain that the type of mutation involved in a passage from any given dimensional plane to the next higher plane would not be destructive of biological integrity as we understand it. Gilman could not be very clear about his reasons for this last assumption, but his haziness here was more than overbalanced by his clearness on other complex points. Professor Upham especially liked his demonstration of the kinship of higher mathematics to certain phases of magical lore transmitted down the ages from an ineffable antiquity—human or pre-human—whose knowledge of the cosmos and its laws was greater than ours.

In that paragraph lies the entire theory behind the Cthulhu Mythos, and it is utterly devoid of supernaturalism. In fact, it explains away “magical lore” as complex mathematics. This is stunning stuff, particularly for the early 1930s when it was written. One could say with confidence that Lovecraft is one of the first writers to take the scientific theories of the day and so convincingly turn them to fiction. And that is a testament to his genius.

In this way, Lovecraft spans a gulf. His stories are fantastic, but many of them can be so thoroughly grounded in plausible scientific theory that it is difficult to call them supernatural. Which is not to say there’s nothing of the supernatural in Lovecraft. Of course there is. But that supernaturalism is not at the heart of Lovecraft, and that is the key.

Lovecraft proves that the core of the horrific lies not in supernaturalism itself, but in what supernaturalism represents—a break from the reality we expect, and a sightless plunge into the abyss of the unknown.

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31 days of Halloween (2018): A Disney Halloween Treat

When you think about Disney, you probably don’t think about horror. But you would be wrong.

Very wrong.

Everybody has their inspirations. The classics, the old Hammer movies, Lovecraft, Poe, King, whatever. But for me, as much as anything else, it was those old Disney cartoons in the Octobers of my youth.

Cartoons were different back then, kids. It’s almost like they weren’t for children at all. They were mature, often violent, and occasionally terrifying. Two stick out to me. The first was called A Disney Halloween.

Essentially a clip show, A Disney Halloween brings together many of Disney’s best Halloween-themed shorts into one package. There are probably twelve or so vignettes. The first produced the images above, “A Night on Bald Mountain.” At the time, I only knew this was terrifying. Now, I understand it is an animated recreation of Walpurgis Night, the May-Eve, when all that is evil in this world rules the dark places of the earth. Later on, there is a discussion of cats and how they have been viewed as harbingers of evil throughout the ages. It includes a brief animation of the dark shadow of a man walking through a medieval village at night in the midst of a violent storm, while the good people of the town peer out from the security of their homes. It’s deliciously creepy, and you can see it below at 34:40. I’ve cued up the video to begin with a “Night on Bald Mountain,” but it’s fun to watch the whole thing.

The second Disney offering I want to highlight is one of my favorite productions, tv or film, animated or live action. It’s the Disney animated retelling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Narrated by none other than Bing Crosby, this is, in my view, the definitive retelling of the Washington Irving classic. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Literally. I’ve memorized the songs. And none are better than this.

If you want to see the whole thing, click here.

So why do I mention all this? It’s not just to tell you how much I love Disney. My love of horror was born with these cartoons, before I even know what horror was, certainly before I could read. Horror is like anything else; a true appreciation for it only comes with exposure. We aren’t born loving it, and if we want the genre to be strong in the future, we have to pass our love for it down. Whether that means sharing these videos with your kids, reading them a spooky story, or just taking them out trick or treating, what you do can change their lives.

It sure changed mine.

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): The Horror of Remakes

I have a confession to make—dawn_of_the_dead_2004_movieDawn of the Dead (2004) is one of my favorite horror movies. Seriously, I must have seen it a hundred times. I own the extended DVD version. Every zombie movie has that sequence where the rising begins, but no movie has done it better than Dawn of the Dead. I believe the first 20 or so minutes are the finest example of zombie horror ever put to celluloid. And yes, I like it better than the original.

That’s blasphemy to come folks, and I get it. One of my other favorite horror movies is the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. I saw the remake. It did a few things well—the microsleep bits were neat. But the rest of it was terrible. The makeup, while more realistic, lost so much in the translation. The acting was wooden, the is-he-really-bad element, silly.

But here’s the thing (and this is where I’m going with all this), a bad remake doesn’t cheapen the original. In fact, if anything, it makes one appreciate all the things the original did right. And a good remake can become a classic film in its own right.

And that’s why I find it impossible to get upset with the remake bonanza that we see going on in Hollywood these days. Do I wish studios would put more money behind daring, innovative, and original productions (hello At the Mountains of Madness)? Sure. I’d also like to be on the New York Times bestseller list, but that ain’t happening anytime soon either. So when I hear that they are remaking a classic like Suspiria, I get excited. And if early reviews are to be believed, that excitement is likely to be rewarded (I’ll miss The Goblin soundtrack, though).

I guess I’m saying give remakes a chance. And to get you started, here are a few of my favorites.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The Thing (1982)

The Ring (2002)

The Fly (1986)

Evil Dead (2013)

 

 

 

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): The Ring

the-ring-movie-poster-2002-1020189818I remember the first time I saw The RingIt was 2002 in the old movie theater in Tuscaloosa, the one they had before the mega-theater, The Rave, opened up off the highway. It was old school, no stadium seating, sticky floors, cigarette burns and shoddy sound. I was in college, and my girlfriend at the time–now wife–and I would often find ourselves there on the weekends, more often than not for a horror movie. Then we went to see The Ring, and everything changed.

It was the first time I saw that movie, and so to it was the last.

The Ring is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. It might even be the only scary movie I’ve ever seen. That may sound strange to you, but bear with me. After all, what is fear? Real fear? It’s not a jump scare, a nervous reaction bred into humanity to avoid the quick strike of the leopard or the wolf. That’s not fear. Not really. And it’s not the small terror of wondering what is to come, the hide your eyes because you don’t know what’s about to happen fear. That terror goes hand in hand with disappointment. The beast is always scarier when the door is closed, when you can hear it but not see it, when the doorknob jiggles and the wooden planks crack. But when the door opens and the beast appears? Disappointment. What you see can never overcome what lurks in the back of your mind.

But The Ring is different. The Ring is Shangri-La. It is a thing glimpsed and then lost. And then you search for it the rest of your life, trying to recapture that feeling. But you never do, and you know you never will.

The Ring is utterly unique in my experience. It is the only movie that terrified me, that got under my skin, that took hold and wouldn’t let go. From the first scene to the last, I was petrified.

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Freaked me out, man.

The Ring happened at the last possible minute it could happen. A movie about a haunted video tape? Never fly now. And it barely flew then, at at time when DVDs were all but dominant and just on the cusp of the rise of DVRs and YouTube. But in 2002 it still worked. It was a world still reeling from 9/11, and the burst of horror that always finds fertile ground in the fears of the masses was just beginning, led by the influx of J-horror. It was the beginning of a new golden age, but it would never get better than this.

I can’t tell you exactly what it is about The Ring that affected me so. I can’t tell you why I felt that horror in my bones, or why for the next seven days every time I closed my eyes I saw that girl. I know there are people who will mock this post, just like they mock this movie. Art is like that. It strikes each human soul differently. And horror is art, the oldest and most profound.

No, my life changed that night. I’d been a searcher after horror before, but it was the glimpse of it in its purest form that made me who I am today.

It’s just too bad my wife won’t go to the movies with me anymore.

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): Best Horror Shorts cont’d

Yesterday we started the countdown of the best horror shorts on the web. Today, we unveil the top three. These are solid films that are better than half the movies in the theaters today. Without further ado…

3.  The Birch

“The Birch” might have been even higher on this list were it not for the fact it’s very short. But what we see is powerful. A grandmother shares an old book and even older knowledge to her grandson. When he goes looking for it, he finds his grandmother’s stories are truth. Created by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton, the creature design in this short is better than many big budget films. Not to be missed.

2.  Don’t Move

When you screw around with Ouija boards, sometimes you call up things you can’t control. The rules are set from the beginning of this shot flick, so you know what’s coming, but not to whom. Also by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton, this film features more tremendous creature design, and is probably the most complete story on the list.

1.  The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow

“The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow” is an absolute masterpiece. There are more frightening entries in this list, there are entries that depict better creature design, but for shear inventiveness and wonder, it takes the cake. There’s so much going on beyond what we see, and if the best horror stories are generated in our own minds out of the unknown and mysterious, this film stands alone. Watch it again and again, and you’ll see new things every time.

 

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): Best Horror Shorts, part 1

Horror stories come in all shapes and sizes. And just like some of the best horror in the written media comes in the form of short stories, some of the best horror cinema comes in the form of short films. Recently I came upon this list from Looper of the best short horror films out there. You can see that list here. That sent me down the rabbit hole to see what other great horror shorts I could find. Some are better than others, and so you don’t waste any of your precious Halloween time, I’ve ranked the top five, along with some honorable mentions. Top three tomorrow.

Honorable Mentions:

Tuck Me In

Thee shortest of the movies that will appear on this list, Tuck Me In has a simple premise that caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. Nothing too complicated here, but sometimes the simplest horrors are the best.

Sleepy Eyes

A similar premise to Tuck Me In, Sleepy Eyes is the scariest movie about wind chimes I’ve ever seen.

The Ten Steps

Once again, there’s nothing particularly spectacular about the premise of this short film, but The Ten Steps takes what it has and whips it into a delightful little fright film.

Now the Top Five!

5. The Jigsaw

Based on a classic story of horror, The Jigsaw is a delightfully creepy film that combines some of my favorite horror tropes: storms, old-timey records, and haunted objects.

4. Cargo

A short so good they made a full-length film out of it, but I can’t imagine what a movie could do that this short doesn’t accomplish.

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): Songs of Horror

The HP Lovecraft Historical Society is one of the premier purveyors of horror around today. That such an entity exists, creating the kind of art it does, is a testament to H.P. Lovecraft’s enduring legacy. As I have written about before on this site, their Dreams in the Witch House, a Lovecraftian Rock Opera is simply brilliant. For your viewing pleasure, enjoy “There’s No Turning Back.”

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): The Best Scenes in Horror Movie History Part II

And now five more of the best scenes in horror. Enjoy!

Dawn of the Dead (2004) — The World Ends

One of the best remakes ever–and that’s saying a lot considering the source material–Dawn of the Dead also has one of the best scenes of any zombie film. Most zombie movies, for whatever reason, don’t show the fall. The pick up sometime later. But this movie managed to capture exactly what it might be like to wake up on the last day of civilization.

The Babadook — Dook, Dook, Dook

I loved The Babadook, and I think a big reason is this scene. It starts so innocently, and yet it gets under your skin, unnerving you, making you think you something is watching over your shoulder. And maybe it is.

Sinister — The Lawnmower Scene

Sinister is an underappreciated horror movie in my view. But I don’t know anyone who didn’t appreciate this scene. Perhaps the single greatest jump scare out there. Turn the lights down and the volume up.

Army of Darkness –Hail to the King, Baby

Most horror movies sputter to their conclusion. Not Army of Darkness. It ends with one of the single greatest scenes in all of horror history. I can quote the whole thing. Who can’t though?

A Nightmare on Elm Street — Falling Asleep in Class

This is, without a doubt, my favorite scene in all of horror. It’s perfect. Perfectly written. Perfectly acted. And it sums up everything that A Nightmare on Elm Street is about. (As an aside, Nightmare is my favorite horror movie.

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31 Days of Halloween: The Best Scenes in Horror Movie History, Part I

Yesterday we did the best opening lines in horror novels. Today, I want to share with you some of my favorite horror movie scenes. I don’t know about you, but a good horror scene makes me positively giddy. Like, laugh out loud, smile like a madman, giddy. Am I the only one? No? Yes? Anyway, here we go. Let me know your favorites in the comments.

Oh, and P.S., in the tradition of all great horror, this post will have a sequel. Come back tomorrow for Part II, where I reveal my favorite horror scene of all time.

Suspiria — A Beautiful Death

From the finest Italian horror movie ever made comes this gem. Occurring about five minutes into the film, it sets the scene for what’s coming.

Insidious — Tiptoe Through the Tulips

This scene is everything that quiet horror should be. An ordinary day, a record player (always creepy), no reason to think anything is going to happen. But if you are watching, you’ll spy something out of place early on in the scene. I love this scene, and I get chills every time I watch it.

The Shining — Come Play With Us

This one is almost cheating, but man is it good.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night — The Record Scene

Another scene involving a record player, but very different. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is one of the most visually stunning horror films ever shot, and this scene might be its most beautiful.

Hellraiser — Demons to Some, Angels to Others

The best scene in one of the best horror movies ever made, here we meet the Cenobites in all their glory. I’ll always believe that this scene and our desire to see more, learn more, and know more about the Cenobites spawned the countless Hellraiser sequels. After all, they have such sights to show us.

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31 Days of Halloween (2018): The Best Opening Lines in Horror

This is a post I’ve done before, but I like it so much I’m re-upping it and the two that follow it. Enjoy!

51vefbadjql-_sy344_bo1204203200_A great first line can make a book, and the inability to come up with one has stopped more than a few writers from every getting on with the rest of the story. Here, I present to you some of my favorites (and some of them are more like first paragraphs). Leave yours in the comments.

I am a watchdog. My name is Snuff. — A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

So intent was Frank upon solving the puzzle of Lemarchand’s box that he didn’t hear the great bell begin to ring. — The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats. — Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead. — John Dies at the End by David Wong.

On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back. — I am Legend by Richard Matheson

Don’t call me Abraham: call me Abe. — The Fisherman  by John Langan

Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level where savage things grow. — Carrie by Stephen King

Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous. — The Picture in the House by H.P. Lovecraft

A considerable number of hunting parties were out that year without finding so much as a fresh trail; for the moose were uncommonly shy, and the various Nimrods returned to the bosoms of their respective families with the best excuses the facts of their imaginations could suggest. — The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood

You could argue–as I have more than enough times, as part of my Film History lecture–that, no matter its actual narrative content, every movie is a ghost story. — Experimental Film by Gemma Files

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone. — The Haunting of Hill House  by Shirley Jackson

This is not for you. — House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

 

 

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