‘Writers Choice’ is a monthly segment. Each month a theme will be chosen and the contributors asked to choose a film to mini-review based around said theme. This month’s theme is ‘spooky’.
NOTE: This was due to be posted on Halloween but Internet issues on the Editors end prevented this from happening.
When it comes to horror, gore is the one thing I can handle. Quite well, actually. I’ve managed to pull myself through Hostel on numerous occasions, along with a viewing of The Human Centipede that is, of course, almost vital to any night at a friend’s house. There is, ultimately, only one film that can leave me both simultaneously haunted and amazed. And, surprisingly, it is one that very rarely shows us the villain of the piece, the horror itself. Instead, it relies only on fear. A fear that has been stripped bare of all technology and is based solely on isolation.
What makes it so effectively terrifying is not an urban legend that could spark an ill-advised, teenage-led hunt nor an array of ominous visuals; it is far simpler than that. It is the thought of finding yourself in Ripley’s position. Alone, but not quite. The unimaginable horror of the unknown, the idea that whatever it is you’re facing is better than you, stronger than you, faster than you and that if you believe you can beat it, you’re wrong. Alien is the perfect example of the notion that it is not the expense of the terror, that being the titular creature in this case, that makes a powerful horror, it is the way in which our fears are exploited and used in order to create realism in the most surreal of scenarios. One of the greatest effects used by Ridley Scott’s direction is that we never quite see the Xenomorph itself. Instead, we are only given occasional close-ups of the extraterrestrial, which deepens our dread as the film’s antagonist is now left almost entirely to our own imagination.
The alien of the title can be just as disgusting or as horrifying as we desire it to be. –Hannah Ryan
Generally speaking, I’m not a horror fan. The Shining, sure, but past that my experience of horror movies is minimal. I fall victim to the cheap scares that you’re meant to mock and I hate being made jump. A horror I actually enjoyed, El Orfanato, is not without these – I leapt out of my skin at ridiculously engineered scares more than once. However it does transcend them. The story of Laura, a mother and Simón, her adopted son is heartbreaking as much as it is creepy. I particularly liked how much it was shrouded in mystery; Simón goes missing after sharing stories of a friend Tomás, a boy with a sack on his head. An old woman sneaking around the shed of Laura’s new house, the old orphanage where she herself grew up.
El Orfanato is as haunting and it is haunted. Somehow the horror movie clichés ( a medium, a seance, night vision, the subverting of childhood games into something sinister) come across as natural instead of contrived. Laura seeks closure and rooting for her, so do you. To some the twist in this film (yes, there is a twist, no, I didn’t see it coming) may seem like a predictable and underwhelming end but I found it satisfying yet tragic.
The real gem of this film is the cinematography. Clean, crisp and colourful, it proves horror movies do not have to take place solely in darkened rooms in order to be frightening. I would definitely recommend this for a horror novice this Halloween.
Beetlejuice focuses on Adam and Barbara- just an everyday married couple, who after dying in a car crash are trapped in their home as ghosts. When a new family move in who are the complete opposite to the recently deceased, the couple try to scare the family away with white bed sheets and weird voodoo at the dinner table. After Adam and Barbara realise they’re just too nice to scare this obnoxious family out the house, they hire the ill-advised help of another ghost, Beetlejuice, who promises to help them in their quest to get it back.
The film is directed by Tim Burton and I really think it shows; from the almost surreal imagery seen when the couple leave the house to Winona Ryder’s character Lydia (literally one of the coolest film characters ever); I really think this is one of Burton’s best films. Added to the classic Tim Burton quirks is Michael Keaton’s amazing comedic portrayal of Beetlejuice, along with iconic yet equally weird scenes which make this film so distinctive, engaging and overall just a fun film to watch. –Laura Hague
By now, everything related to The Sixth Sense is so permeated into pop culture that we pretty much know everything about it. We all can recall the scene where Hayley Joel Osment is bundled up in his blankets frighteningly whispering, “I see dead people”. We all know that Bruce Willis is in fact, one of those dead people. But there’s no denying that this is a geniusly spooky film, unfortunately one that one-hit wonder director M. Night Shyamalan can never again live up to. Perhaps what is so spooky about this film is how quietly the ghosts seem to appear. The visuals for the ghosts are utterly haunting. At first glance, they seem like ordinary everyday human beings. But then you can see what happened to them. A little boy talks about his father’s gun and when he turns around you can see the bullet wound on the back of his head. A colonial family hangs in the halls of the school. And perhaps the most scariest, a young Mischa Barton appears under the blanket fort and vomiting. Her whole storyline was also the spookiest, who can forget that eerie and grainy videotape footage of the mother dishing out poison in the soup? We realize that the mother had Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.
But what makes The Sixth Sense special is that not only is it scary, but it is also sad. M. Night Shyamalan gives such humanity to the ghosts- who were, after all, real people once. You learn most of their backstories and know that they are only really searching for peace. The Sixth Sense does something unique where it makes you both terrified and empathetic towards the ghosts in the story. –Caroline Madden
If there is one film you should watch this Halloween (and I am sure you’ve heard that phrase many times this season, but hear me out – it’ll be worth it), it should be Cat People. For me, Halloween has always been something more than scary masks, fake blood and egg throwing pranks. It’s about that otherworldly place – the possibility that things of the unknown can exist, or, in some cases, would be sweet as hell if they did. Magic, witchcraft and wizardry. Ghouls, zombies and werewolves. There’s something elusive about it, it’s mysterious and – definitely written in certain ways – as being exotic, sexy even. (I mean, is there any more obvious metaphor to sexuality than vampires?)
And that feeling – the mystery, the seduction – is all over Cat People. While it is mostly known for being the first ‘jump scare’ movie of its time (and, apparently, the originator of that now-famous horror movie shock), it has a bubbling sexual tension about it.
Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) believes that she is the descendent of a tribe of Cat Women, who can turn into a panther when they feel threatened. She meets a man called Oliver (Kent Smith) when she’s at Manhattan’s Central Park Zoo, sketching that very same creature she fears of turning into. The two quickly become infatuated with each other, and, despite Irena’s reservations about her ‘true self, they marry. But Irena, worried that if she has sex with her husband she will turn, doesn’t want to become intimate with him, no matter how much she wants to. Add Oliver’s co-worker Alice (Jane Randolph) into the equation, and its one tangled mess.
What is so great about Cat People and why it has withstood decades of horror movie history – and film history in general – is that it appears to be one thing, but is a commentary to so many different themes, on all kinds of levels. At the center of the film, it is about a woman’s sexuality – a statement (whether intentionally or unintentionally, it is still important) of the time in which it was made, and how women were viewed then. Even now, speaking about female sexuality is something of a taboo – as if it is so crazy to think that women enjoy pleasure just as much as men, and women also have urges. I’m pretty much repeating what so many other women have said – and far better than I could – but seriously? It’s 2014 and we’re still having this discussion? Man.
But hey, I guess that is part of what makes Cat People still relatable – because Irena and her sexual confusion is something women are continuing to go through, as part of an on-going judgement from society.
Cat People, with mostly subtle ways, really showed that as a document of its time. All the while it was completely engrossed in a then-new way of telling a story that (on a superficial level, by name) could have been another toss away b-movie. And, in some respect, Cat People is a b-movie, but not the one that you’d expect. –Cherokee Seebalack
For this month dedicated to the spooky I decided to shy away from the obvious ghost-zombie-serial killer-attacks-small-town story and introduce a more subtle tale of a dysfunctional family and their tumultuous relationships. “I Pugni In Tasca” or “Fists in The Pocket” is a 1965 film directed by Marco Bellocchio. Although not gory and spooky, this story is disturbing and unsettling. This film focuses on an disorderly and dysfunctional family that lives in an almost isolated villa. The family comprises of Augusto, Giulia, Alessandro, Leone and their blind, aging mother. All three of the children excluding Augusto suffer from epilepsy and other disabilities. There is even an underlying incestuous relationship between Alessandro and Giulia. Once the family finds out that Augusto is planning to move out with his girlfriend to live in the city, Alessandro hatches a plan to rid his ‘perfect’ brother of his sick, demented family. This movie has moments of great suspense and odd, humorous moments. A great watch for anybody who is looking for a disturbing tragedy placed in post-war Italy. –Monica Pallotta
I’m not really one for believing in ghosts or the supernatural, so to spook me you have to face me with situations that are totally plausible. That’s why The Shining the best horror ever. Whilst the entire idea behind ‘the shining’ is a power that means you can see things that aren’t really there is not very realistic at all, it’s the second half of the movie, the complete cabin fever part that totally works. Knowing me, I would go completely bizarro if I were stuck in a hotel with two family members for six months with no Internet or TV signal. Seeing Jack Torrence (the wonderful Jack Nicholson) get more and more agitated with his wife, more and more irritated and more and more unable to cope with it is something that can happen to anyone. I mean we sure as hell wouldn’t end up beating family members to death with a bat, or an axe through a maze in a blizzard, or locking them in freezers, or forcing them to climb through bathroom windows that are numerous stories high… or I certainly hope we wouldn’t. But the idea that it could happen is there. From the moment the movie begins the atmosphere is totally creepy, the first conversation we hear the family have revolves around cannibalism. Combined with ghost stories from the past, a haunted architecturally impossible hotel, hovering shots of long, empty corridors, a typewriter with only the words ‘all work and no play makes jack a dull boy’ typed over and over, and dead twins asking five year old danny to ‘come play with [them]’ makes The Shining an amazing watch to totally send shivers up your spine, cause well, you never really know what’s going on in everyone’s heads. –Mel Sutherland
When I was taking a horror film class, my professor asked if there was a difference between the words “scary” and “horror.” As I thought about it, I realized there have been plenty of times when I would watch a film and be scared, but not horrified, and vice versa. I would be “scared” if a person was walking through a house that was possibly inhabited by a ghost/demon/serial killer etc. But if there was a doctor who lured in victims to then cut there faces off and use for his daughter’s facial reconstruction surgery? HORRIFIED.This is why I believe the French film Eyes Without a Face (1960), directed by Georges Franju, is one of the greatest horror films out there, and personally one of of my all time favorites.
Dr. Génessier is a veterinarian who seems to lead a normal life. He has a nice home and a stable job, but is hiding a secret: his daughter, who died in a automobile accident, did not actually die. Her face merely got disfigured. In order to perform a skin graft on Christiane’s face, Dr, Génessier needed a donor. He murdered another girl for her face, and buried her body during Christiane’s “funeral.” How completely revolting is that?! Very. And that is why I love it. During the film’s title sequence, creepy carnival music plays. The only images shown are of trees rapidly passing by, as if someone is filming from inside of a car. Although this sounds fairly simple, it is incredibly eerie to the point that it will draw you in right away. I think that embodies the entirety of the film, and is the main reason why I admire this film so much; it does not rely on special effects or cheap scares. Although, there is a scene where one of the surgeries rejects, and boy is it gruesome–all by using the power of makeup! The storyline, acting, and cinematography strongly carry the film to its closure. 7/5 stars. Three thumbs up. –Cristina Vazquez de Mercado
I am a gore lover. Sure, I can handle jump scares but when you’ve seen your fair share of horrors they become predictable, but there is always going to be endless new and creative ways to kill and torture people on screen without actually attracting a court case. The Loved Ones excels at this (as does Aussie horror in general). A completely fresh and original take on prom night, the deranged Lola Stone only wants to find her Prince Charming, a guy to take her to her Prom. After super cute guy Brent (Xavier Samuels aka TOTAL BABE even when writhing in pain) rejects her invitation on account of him going with his girlfriend, Lola and her wide-eyed father set about making a prom night she’ll never forget. Capturing Brent, suited and booted, tying him to a chair and allowing Lola’s sick prom night depravities and deepest wishes unfold. There’s blood, violence, glitter, pink dresses, balloons and something hidden in the basement to name a few things that go down. It’s got all the makings of a horror/cult classic with a killer final scene and iconic lines such as ‘WE CAN’T HEAAAAAR YOU’ will rattle through your ears for days making you wish Lola took the drill to your head instead. –Chloe Leeson