Cold, Dark and Bloody: Best Winter Horror Films

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Oh, shit, it’s cold? I had no idea, MAINSTREAM MEDIA, with all your footage of frozen landscapes. You can go fuck yourself with the frostbitten hand of one of your lowranking correspondents, Mainstream Media.

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I’m sorry, Mainstream Media, I didn’t mean that. I hate you for all the other reasons there are to hate you.

Oh, hey, Reader. Sorry about that. Forgot you were here for a second. Anyway, it’s cold and I wanted to write about my favorite winter horror movies. I was inspired in part by my morning commute, which was cold as balls and horrifying in its own traffic-y way, but also by my ill-fated attempt at watching Jack Frost (yeah, that one) last night.

Mini-Review Time: Jack Frost (1997) has the aesthetic of an early-90s Olsen Twins movie. The music and acting quality are eerily similar to the Twins’ holiday “classic” To Grandmother’s House We Go. But the similarity is basically the only eery thing about Jack Frost. I’m notoriously easy to scare–seriously, go read any other entry on this blog–and this movie never, ever got me. The problem is not that snowmen cannot be scary. They totally can (the 1998 film starring Michael Keaton is a great example of that). It’s that THIS snowman is not scary. Unlike successfully scary clowns, this iteration of Jack Frost fails to deviate from the soft and cuddly iteration of the trope they’re attempting to lampoon. Jack Frost looks exactly like the animated version of Frosty the Snowman that’s been on ABC Family’s Christmas rotation since ABC Family was Fox Family (obligatory “only 90s kids” reference). Unlike its poster, the horror snowman has no fangs or talons or bloodred eyes. You might as well try to make a horror movie about an evil s’more. Tell me it’s murderous all you want, I ain’t scared of no s’more that doesn’t have fangs. Or whatever. My comparison might have gotten a little off track. What I’m saying is that if horror filmmakers are attempting to highlight the terrifying aspects of the mundane or quaint, they first need to pervert it in some way. A “killer puppy” that looks exactly like an adorable little corgi is not scary. Something needs to be at least slightly off. The entire scary doll genre is a fine example of transforming a usually comforting item into a horrifying one with just a few tweaks. Anyway, Jack Frost is an Olsen Twins-esque movie with a random snowman rape scene thrown in. I know what I just said makes you want to watch it, but don’t. Rewatch Troll 2 instead.

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So, what winter horror movies should you watch instead? This is a bit of a tough proposition, because holiday horror movies–which are generally shitty in an unfun way–are included in the winter horror subgenre. But littered among the New Year’s Evils and Black Christmases are the occasional gems.

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I recommend watching the following movies on a snowy afternoon by the fire–whether it be in a fireplace or the skull of your vanquished enemy or just Nic Cage’s face.

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FOUR ESSENTIAL WINTER HORROR MOVIES

1. My Bloody Valentine (1981 and 2009)

I might be cheating a bit, because the most wintery these movies get is that mostly characters wear light jackets, but they’re set in February, so they technically count. Both versions are among my favorite slasher flicks, and the latter is, I think, one of the better arguments for more 3D horror movies. Side note: I don’t get why 3D has turned into the kid-friendly cinematic technology. Like, the immersive quality it lends to films is better suited to the terrifying experience of something like My Bloody Valentine or even Gravity than it is to, say, Cars 2. Oh, cool, Larry the Cable Guy in all three glorious dimensions. Fantastic.

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What I really want is a pick-ax thrown at my face. Thanks for accommodating that desire, My Bloody Valentine.

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Also: there’s an insanely long nude scene in the 2009 remake that–according to some people, myself included–parodies gratuitous female nudity in horror. Even if you don’t care to think about its contributions to discussions of the female body in horror, you will at least enjoy both versions on a primal, scary-stab-comedy-horror level.

2. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

I love Scary Santa movies. There’s something creepy about a nocturnal creature who watches you sleep and judges you that I feel hasn’t become nearly enough of a “thing” in horror movies. Scary clowns are all over the place, but scary Santa has just as much potential for massacring children.

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This particular scary Santa movie is Finnish, smart and terrifying–in that order. The haggard inspiration of the Santa myth’s first appearance still gives me goosebumps.

3. The Shining (1980)

I will happily quibble with you about whether Kubrik’s classic interpretation of Stephen King’s novel should even count as horror, because it transcends a bit into mainstream, psychological thriller. But I do think this movie is perfectly suited to a list of the best winter horror films because it magnifies the characteristics of winter that are, if you think about them, pretty terrifying. The Shining emphasizes the darkness, the biting cold and the claustrophobia of winter to heighten the horrors that transpire in the Overlook. They also make Jack Torrance’s descent into madness relatable from a seasonal perspective. Doesn’t everyone go a little nuts this time of year?

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4. Dead Snow (2009) [BTW, I’m noticing that 2009-2010 was a really good span of enjoyable winter horror movies.]

Dead Snow is another foreign language horror movie, but fits nicely into the classic American “horny youngsters in an isolated cabin” genre. The “evil dead” in this instance, however, are frozen Nazi zombies. Yay!

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Beyond the pure delight of a bunch of wholesome Norwegians battling SS corpses, there’s a memorable outhouse sex scene that–luckily for me, but unluckily for you scat-enthusiasts out there–avoids poop imagery. This is pretty much how you know this is an imported horror movie, because an American version wouldn’t be able to restrain itself from making at least one shit joke/reference. This land is your land, this land is my land, etc.

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Tim Curry Ruined My Childhood: A Guide to Evil Clown Movies

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I watched Killer Klowns from Outer Space this weekend. I had eyed it warily for weeks as it sat in my Netflix Queue, intrigued by the campy title but also anxious about the titular clowns. “Not yet,” I would mutter, gazing at the screen from my pantsless couch cocoon. “Not yet.”

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You see, I watched the miniseries of Stephen King’s It one Halloween in the mid-90s and have dreaded clowns ever since. It’s a tale as old as time. Civilian Tim Curry is, I would argue, already way too creepy for children. When you tart him up in clown makeup and tell him to go around devouring people… he’s just so scary. “How scary is he?!” the obliging audience asks. Tim Curry in It isso scary that for years I couldn’t take a shower without first checking the drain for clown occupancy. (The killer clown emerges from shower drains; it’s not that weird an instinct.)

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I eventually gathered the courage to watch Killer Klowns (by courage, I mean “alcohol” and “my boyfriend”), and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s pretty fun and, more importantly, not at all scary, for several reasons: one, the movie is really silly (which I probably should have gathered from the title); two, the clownswear masks, which for some reason minimizes the terror factor; three, the clowns speak some squeaky alien language (compare this to Tim Curry’s soul-vibrating English accent and the alien clowns seem more like Furbies than Ancient Forces of Darkness).

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What makes Curry’siteration of the Evil Clown is how uncannily like a real clown he can be, jovial while also a bit too odd. Then the claws come out. The villains of Killer Klowns are unrecognizable mounds of rubber. They look like someone painted a clown face on a stack of mashed potatoes, rendering the film more science fiction than horror.

What It gets to the heart of is the horror in the everyday, the terrifying forces threatening to burst from within the mundane. Listed below are a few of the key elements of a successful use of the Evil Clown trope.

1. No real back story or motive

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Killer clowns are way scarier if they don’t have some element of mystery to them; I think Pennywise is far more terrifying when you don’t know that the clown is only one facet of an inter-dimensional predatory life form. I haven’t seen Klown Kamp Massacre (apparently Friday the 13th with clowns), but knowing that the killer clown in this movie kills because he was failing clown college makes the whole thing more silly than scary.

2. Scary-Ass Teeth

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I mean, come on. Toothy smiles are scarier than any other facial expression.

3. Child victims

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Evil clowns are at their scariest when they terrorize children. It’s something about their abuse of that vulnerability that cuts through all of your carefully curated, adult cynicism and makes you regress to a primal fear.

4. Dangerous, but not rabid

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Does Pennywise occasionally grow fangs and claws? Yes, but only after charming you into getting close. Clowns foaming at the mouth are boring. There’s no art there. You know what’s scarier? Fucking Hannibal Lecter in clown make-up, artfully waiting to pounce.

Lady Parts: A Brief Guide to the Sleepaway Camp Franchise

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The blog is a little late today, because in my first draft (which would have been on time) I made the mistake of trying to review the Sleepaway Camp franchise with a focus on the first film. That’s a fool’s errand for several reasons:

A) It has been reviewed with more skill and humor elsewhere (How Did This Get Made? and others).

B) Subjecting Sleepaway Camp to an academic consideration of the cultural perception of trans* people is like dissecting an overcooked macaroni noodle. It gives far too much credit to this terrible film that is less a product of deep-seated cultural attitudes than the singular bizarre vision of the director. Transphobia in film is totally a thing, but Sleepaway Camp is unworthy of being dissected as an example of it.

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C) The film’s cock-driven twist ending (spoilers, I guess, sorry) is so distracting it pulls any review of the movie in like the dick has a gravitational field. My last attempt at reviewing the movie ended with the profound (?!?!?) statement: “I bet Justin Bieber or One Direction or even Twilight would have a fraction of their fans if there were a cinematic avenue for tweens to sate their frustrating cock lust. Down with Justin Bieber! Up with (horror movie) dick!”

[The thing my boyfriend took away from this was that Justin Bieber was kind of a dated reference. But I’m really quite hip to what the tweens are SnapCatting on their mobiles.]

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So… yeah, I’m rewriting this. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and I’m just going to focus on the Sleepaway Camp movies I actually like: Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland. Sleepaway Camp 4 was apparently just shot as porn and then retroactively given the Sleepaway Camp title. Sleepaway Camp 5 is by the same director as the first film and is unavailable to stream on YouTube, two great reasons not to bother with it.

Included below are my collective five favorite moments from both films. Wanna know the plot? Angela once had a penis, but now doesn’t, but it doesn’t really come up ever (even though it motivated her to kill in the first film), and now she’s the most enthusiastic camp counselor ever who deals with unenthusiastic/slutty/profane campers by murdering them. That’s not even a spoiler because you know who the killer is from the beginning. My favorite thing about these movies is the utter lack of suspense. You never ask who is going to kill who when. The answers are Angela and everyone and right now, duh. Props to Pamela Springsteen for her portrayal of one of my all-time favorite horror villains.

5. In Sleepaway Camp 3, Angela kills basically the entire population of the camp, but because she does it one at a time, no one really notices.

I don’t think you understand. Like, half the camp has disappeared and the main counselor is, like, “Hey,  that’s weird, I haven’t seen half the campers for a while. What’s happening with all the kids?” and Angela says, “Oh, yeah, they were bad so I sent them home,” and he’s like, “Angela!” *sitcom-y finger wag* But then eventually she kills him, too.

4. “It’s a drill!”

Springsteen’s delivery is amazing. The snotty camper is all, *eyeroll* “What are you looking for, a gun?” and then Angela just power drills a hole in her dumb chest.

3. The recurring use of the “I’m a Happy Camper” song

Haunting. I want a techno remix, please. Someone fetch me Skrillex.

2. The worst way to die of all the worst possible ways to die:

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Yes, drowning in an old outhouse toilet full of leeches is at least in my top 5 fears, although it probably ranks behind going to a party attended by all of my ex-boyfriends.

1. 30 year old campers and 9 year old campers

In the proud tradition of the first Sleepaway Camp film, these movies feature teens played by grown ass adults, but also actual teen actors, who look like babies compared to their costars. And they flirt with each other in between murders. It’s all very off-putting and yet hilarious, like the Sleepaway Camp franchise as a whole.

Happy Halloween, y’all. Take a moment while you’re creeping and spooking to pour one out for Sleepaway Camp, will you?

A Helpful Guide to Your Halloween Movie Marathon Because You’re a Big Kid Now Dammit

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Aw, shucks, you’re too old to trick or treat? Too unAmerican? Too… European? I bet you’re too European.

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Anyway, you’ve found your way to this blog post because your plans for this Halloween include a couch and cinematic entertainment, not super grody pub crawls or begging for candy or leaving your house. I love Halloween, but I’ve indulged in the time-honored tradition of movie-couching this lovely holiday since I was but a wee, cynical tween. When I was in 6th grade, I dressed up like Fairuza Balk from The Craft, but instead of joining my little brother in trick-or-treating I stayed home alone, watching Halloween movies and grumpily handing out candy. It was awesome, and it’s a tradition I’ve more or less honored every year since, with the exceptions of college Halloween party shitshows THAT DO NOT BEAR MENTIONING.

So, who better than me to guide you through the sometimes-depressing, mostly fun experience of the Halloween Movie Marathon? Let me be the Gothy-Tween-Virgil to your Zombie-Dante.

Rule #1: Dress up.

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I don’t care if you’re alone, if you’re movie-marathoning because you weren’t invited anywhere, if LITERALLY NO ONE will be seeing your costume but you. Dressing up will make you feel better and set the appropriate mood for the movie marathon. If you don’t dress up, then it’s just a horror movie marathon, and you can have those year round. And, if your costume is particularly cool and/or adorable and/or hilariously awful, you can share it with all your social media friends. See, in the internet age, you’re NEVER ALONE.

Rule #2: Lights out or GTFO.

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What do you mean, you’ll get scared if you do this movie marathon in the dark? Letting yourself get scared is essential to this cinematic experience. To allow yourself to be frightened by these movies is to momentarily loosen your grip on reality, to pack away your ever-present cynicism and, for just a moment, to believe in magic. Super creepy blood magic.

Rule #3: Refreshments.

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I’m not going to dictate that you have popcorn balls and candy corn at your viewing (ALTHOUGH IF YOU INVITE ME, YOU FUCKING BETTER). I will recommend you have your favorite seasonal treat available in abundance. Pumpkin ale? Sure. BooBerry cereal? Also fine. And if you dislike most seasonal snacks, nibble what you like. The upside of intentionally discomforting yourself with horror movies is that you get to stuff your face with comfort food.

Rule #4: Keep social networking to a minimum, unless you’re doing more sharing than consuming.

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For a couple of reasons: A) Parties and pub crawls always look way more fun on Instagram than they actually are, so if you’re movie-marathoning alone, it might bum you out. But no fear! Just don’t look at other people’s stuff. Post your own. You’re having way more fun, I promise. And B) If you’re doing this movie marathoning as a group, it’s super distracting for one person to be on their phone all night just browsing Tumblr. C’mon, don’t be rude.

Rule #5: Alternate between Hardcore Horror and Horror Comedies

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Consider this system a palate cleanser. Scary movies will be scarier after a comedy, comedies will be funnier after watching someone saw off their own hand.

Some recommendations:

A Quadrilogy of Classics: Dawn of the Dead, Shawn of the Dead, Halloween, Ghostbusters

Or

The Cabin Quadrilogy: Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2, Evil Dead (2013), Cabin in the Woods

Or

Totally 90s Quadrilogy: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream, The Faculty, Idle Hands

Thanks, and have a spooky Halloween, y’all.

MJTHRILLERdance

 

Haunted: Best Horror Movie Endings

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The week before Halloween is probably as good a time as any to meditate on my persistent dread and resulting anxiety.

Boo.

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[Note: I’m aware of how unoriginal blogging about your anxiety is. “Oh, really, your entire generation was conditioned to primarily interact online and now you worry about socializing at parties? Whoa, no way.” Bear with me, Condescending Wonka.]

I worry like it’s my fucking job. In college, I created an emergency protocol in case a terrorist or wayward gunman accessed the dorm and I made my roommate do emergency drills with me (my “protocol” was mostly to lock the dorm room, hide in the closet and hold a clothes hanger, ready to poke the attacker in the face if they opened the door).

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My anxiety, driven as it is by an illogical and ceaseless dread, persists even in my most joyful moments. I am, at present, more romantically fulfilled than I’ve ever been. My boyfriend is stupid-handsome, smart, kind, hilarious, talented and incredibly vocal about how awesome I am. And sometimes I shoot him sidelong glances, suspicious of his perfection, ready to find out he is a robot made of anthrax who was programmed to sell me magazine subscriptions and this whole relationship is a long con.

Jean-Claude Van Damme because there are no pictures of magazine selling anthrax robots (elusive creatures)

Jean-Claude Van Damme because there are no pictures of magazine selling anthrax robots (elusive creatures)

So, I’ve had this weird dynamic with horror movies in part because of my big sack o’ dread. You would think that subjecting an anxious person to an experience designed to incite panic (at the disco!) would be a terrible idea and, yes, it’s what made watching scary movies unbearable for so long. Sitting through the tensest moments of a horror movie is still really difficult for me, but I’ve begun to enjoy the experience due in large part to how these movies conclude. All of the tension gets resolved, providing me with a catharsis rivaled only by sex. The protagonist has been subjected to the worst possible scenario and usually (with some notable exceptions) survives.

I love this part of the movie. I spend so much time anticipating horrible events that don’t happen. I wait for the other shoe to drop and it doesn’t. Usually there is no other shoe. I’m preparing for the worst and, luckily, it never happens. But my dread persists because I’m still waiting for my boyfriend to explode into mustard gas or for the murderer to steal my clothes hanger. In horror movies, the worst thing happens, the emergency protocol goes into place and, most of the time, it works. People survive (not sexually active people, but some people) and you know they’re eventually going to be okay (sequels notwithstanding).

So, in honor of my favorite part of the horror movie, I’ve created a list of the best horror movie endings. This post is so very full of spoilers. Duh.

1.Evil Dead (2013)

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I consider this remake an improvement on the original. That’s not as blasphemous a statement as it sounds—while the original franchise (Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness) is beloved, the first film is the worst of the bunch and features no chainsaw arms.

Anyway, the entire final sequence of the remake is fantastic. The audience is introduced to Mia, our “final girl,” at her most vulnerable, when she’s coming to terms with her drug addiction. We end with her literally conquering her demons. And by “conquer” I mean she saws a demon’s head in half with a chainsaw and walks away like a bad ass in bleeding rain while a cabin burns to the ground behind her.

2. Vamp

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The day will come when I get tired of writing about Vamp, but that day is not today. Have you seen this movie yet? Do it, silly. Grace Jones’s ashy corpse giving the finger to the surviving protagonist is the em-effing best.

3. Jaws

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The shark explodes. It’s super gratifying. Shut up, Jaws is scary.

4. Scream

“Careful, this is the moment when the supposedly dead killer comes back to life, for one last scare.”

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I should do a review of Scream soon. It’s pretty fabulous, and the ending is no exception. It sends up the slasher movie convention of the unkillable killer.

Tiny Jaws: Is Piranha Parody or Just Inept?

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(This week’s post is a generous contribution from the inimitable Brent Williams, my movie-watching partner. Go follow him on Twitter @twelvepointfont in anticipation of the day he actually uses it. -Sarah the Squeam Queen)

I find myself conflicted on what to say about Piranha. Wikipedia tells me that it me that it was a parody of Jaws, but It never felt self-aware enough for me to think of it as a Parody. I laughed at it in much the same way I would laugh at a Parody. There were over-the-top characters and a situation not entirely dissimilar to Jaws, but I never felt that Jaws was the subject of this movie. Piranha definitely felt like its own bit of camp.

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Not that kind of camp

The movie starts with the customary expendable teenage couple breaking into an abandoned military facility, much as we all have done once or twice in our youth. The pair then proceeds to swim in what is questionably water. The boyfriend waits until they’re already swimming in the green liquid to raise the idea that it may be sewage. This being a monster movie about piranhas, you can probably guess how the rest of the scene goes.

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They die, and give our female protagonist (who is good at finding people and wants to find the aforementioned couple for reasons I’m too lazy to look up) a reason to head into the mountains near the abandoned military facility and stumble upon a our male protagonist, named Paul.

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Paul is an unreliable drunk, but Maggie, the female protagonist I mentioned earlier, knows that he is just the man to help her find the missing couple. As it turns out, Maggie is right, and Paul’s alcoholism is never an issue. Paul is one of the most capable characters in the movie. He has shared custody of his daughter, and by the end of the movie, he saves a lot of lives. The early scenes establishing him as a drunk only really serve to justify the fact that some people are assholes toward Paul.

Maggie and Paul arrive at the abandoned military facility and find a lab filled with tanks of mutant fish. There’s a claymated mutant thing watching them from the corners that you surely think will be reincorporated or at least be some sort of variation of the movie’s main monsters, but no. The piranhas of this movie are just silhouettes of normal piranhas. Clearly, there is something more interesting going on in this lab, and I want to see that movie.

Paul (or maybe Maggie) hits a lever to drain the green water from the pool where the teenagers were eaten. Seeing this, a man attacks. He’s subdued and we learn that he is a scientist. This a very interesting character, because we learn that he’s just been fucking around with mutant Piranha all by himself ever since the Vietnam War ended. He’s made them more and more dangerous without any real reason for doing so. Also, he’s put these unnecessarily deadly fish in a pool that drains to the river. So, now the piranha are free and headed downriver toward the camp where Paul’s daughter is. Paul, Maggie and the scientist set off down the river on a raft to warn people about the Piranhas. For some reason, all non-piranha-infested means of transportation aren’t an option. Calling ahead to the camp fails because the head counselor is one of those assholes I mentioned earlier.

Paul’s friend Jack lives downriver, and we see him on the edge of his dock with his feet in the water, drunk and telling jokes to his dog. When The Piranhas attack him, he screams and screams, but makes no effort to pull his feet from the water. When Paul, Maggie and the scientist (a new band name I’m considering) find him, he’s dragged himself from the water, but he’s dead, and there’s nothing but bone where his lower legs once were. This kind of horrifying power is never seen again.

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Shortly after finding Jack, the scientist throws himself in the water to pull a kid off of a capsized canoe being attacked by piranhas. Honestly, when I saw what the scientist was doing, I thought that he was trying to kill himself and the kid. Those same piranhas stripped Jack’s leg of flesh in the time it took him to lift them from the water, but the scientist manages to swim thirty feet and drag himself and the kid through the water and onto the raft. He does die, but the kid doesn’t seem to get a scratch on him.

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Kids must be invincible in this universe in the same way they are in Skyrim, because when the fish do eventually get to the camp (which happens after some nonsense with the military and a dam), the kids spend five minutes flopping around five feet from the shore without much injury to any of them. The only casualty from the attack is a camp counselor who is somehow pulled underwater by tiny fish.

Things work out fine for the kids, but Maggie and Paul soon have to save a resort, because the owner is the type of idiotic movie villain who ignores the monster until it’s too late. Maggie and Paul arrive as the resort is being attacked. 

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Having no real way to help, they steal a speed boat to see if they can go downriver to the old coal mill to dump the leftover chemicals into the river and kill the piranhas before they reach the ocean and spread to other rivers. And that’s what they do. They save the world by polluting.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It’s good for a laugh. It’s the type of campy fun I like to find on Netflix (or whatever video streaming service decides to sponsor Sarah’s blog).

Special thanks to my photo editor.

Little Box of Horrors: Terror on TV

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I never really thought of television as having a horror genre. I was basically like, “You got your dramas and your comedies and some shades of gray in between.” Except, of course, when a show like American Horror Story just fucking gives you the genre in its title. Like, how else am I gonna classify that show? “Witty Dramedy”? I don’t think so. But, despite my initial oversight, plenty of shows that don’t self-identify as “horror” are important additions to this media-spanning genre. Many episodes of The Twilight Zone and The X-Files meet the genre criteria and, in fact, are undeniable progenitors of the many horror movies and TV shows we enjoy today. That sentence made me sound like a tour guide in the Hall of Presidents at Disney, yes, but I like to think of myself as your tour guide into HELL, so BUCKLE UP, MOTHERFUCKERS. 

[I’m writing this in the form of three case studies. This does not mean that I think there are only three shows in the history of television that qualify as horror. I picked three shows that a) I really enjoy, b) I had seen all/most of (disqualifying The Twilight Zone and The X-Files because I’ve only seen a season or so of each) and c) were available to stream so that if I write a stunning review that convinces you to go marathon the show, you can totally do that with minimal effort.]

1. Buffy the Motherfucking Vampire Slayer, 1997-2003 (emphasis added)

I love this show. You love this show. If you don’t love this show, you either haven’t seen it or you lack both a sense of humor and human empathy and maybe joy. [Suck it, Joyless Buffy Hater who probably doesn’t exist.] Buffy is the grandmother of the smart, Tumblr-friendly TV obsessed over by millenials (Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf). Joss Whedon’s first show is funny, smart, heartbreaking and, on occasion, really fucking scary. Most of the season-arcing Big Bads are at least terrifying in a cerebral way, but some villains are great examples of get-me-a-fucking-blanket-or-any-object-under-which-I-can-shake-in-fear horror. Buffy, like my favorite horror movies, not only flips from terrifying to hilarious, but can do both at the same time. Evil Angel (Angelus) is deeply scary but also one of the best comic characters in the show’s earlier seasons (pre-Anya, anyway). The level of gore and creepiness on Buffy may be overlooked for its more WB-friendly qualities (the tight-knit ensemble of beautiful teens in trendy outfits), or its Whedonverse attributes (wit, heartbreak and Nathan Fillion), but that doesn’t make it any less of a scream.

The most Horror-ific Buffy villains include (ranked from least to most scary):

The Coach from Nightmares

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There are NO pictures of this monster online. Here’s a picture of Willow from the same episode.

(The first time I watched this season of Buffy, I was visiting family in Italy and had to watch it dubbed in Italian. So, when this episode inevitably gave me nightmares, it was this guy running after me and grunting in the very basic Italian I knew. “Grr. Andiamo, bella! Grr.”)

Gnarl

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Just look at this creep

Der Kinderstod

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UGHHHHHHH

The Gentlemen

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Duh. Big duh. Huge duh forever times infinity no takebacks. Great effing episode, this one.

2. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, 2004-2004

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Have you seen this show? You should see this show. Richard Ayoade mega-geeks and watchers of Adult Swim (combined, the total population of the internet) have probably already seen it, but less-rabid comedy fans can check it out on YouTube. The premise of this show is that sometime in the 1980s, the worst version of Stephen King, the titular Garth Marenghi, made a horror-driven television show in the general style of his novels. It was so terrible that the studio never released it… until now!

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Having watched endless bad ’80s horror, Darkplace is kind of a revelation in how accurately it skewers the terrible effects and unearned confidence of these cheesy 80s horror efforts. Ayoade plays the show’s producer, who, in the show within the show, is given a major role despite never having acted before. His stilted performance rivals that chick from Werewolf (seriously high praise).

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The best thing about Darkplace (after how unbelievably funny it is) is how many of the single-episode horrors/villains would totally have been spun into 90-minute movies in the ‘80s, a la The Stuff or C.H.U.D. There’s such a fine line between silly and terrifying that the same creative mind can either produce It (evil clowns = super scary) or The Mangler (evil ironing/folding machine = really stupid).

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     And now a collection of Darkplace gifs, because I’m only human:

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3. American Horror Story, 2011-

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Ryan Murphy really knows how to creep me out. I stayed up late to watch Nip/Tuck before I’d really gotten comfortable with horror, and the whole thing with The Carver only stopped giving me nightmares when the show went off the air and, oh, would you look at that, the nightmares are back.

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But if I thought that was terrifying, hold onto your scooter, Spanky, because you ain’t seen American Horror Story yet. I love how every word in this show’s title is evoked throughout each iteration of the show. You probably get the “horror” and “story,” but the “American” part really resonates with me partially because of how this show jumps through American history, hitting key events and movements better than that opening credits sequence of The Watchmen. But I also love how each new villain and location gets at these classic vestiges of terror in our collective American consciousness. The horror stories fostered by American culture go back to those major themes, settings, etc., such as the haunted house, the mental institution, the coven, but the show explores them from the vantage point of the thing we fear: the ghosts, the criminally insane and (I think, from the promos) the witches. In some ways, Murphy is just rehashing some our oldest horror stories with more sex and gore, but, ultimately, he manages to produce something novel by humanizing our oldest monsters.