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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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?

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.

Vamp: the Horror Virgin Saga Continues

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The first time I watched Vamp, I had just graduated from college, started my first real job (with a real life adult salary and rules about using Tumblr on my office computer and everything), moved cities, and all of my friends and my superhot boyfriend—did I mention I have a superhot boyfriend?—were living in different states and countries.

While I felt really lucky (mostly because the adults in my life think 22-year-old English Lit grads with salaries are rarer than self-immolating unicorns), I was also anxious and scared and slightly miserable. My real life terror about rent, love, friendships, artistic integrity, my legacy and the alarming lack of counter space in my bathroom finally surpassed my reservations about the horror genre. I could laugh in the face of Murder Clowns and Pleasure Monsters from Hell. Horror movies, if anything, were an outlet for my quarterlife crisis and resulting cushy, privileged anxiety. A monster that gets sucked back into hell after 90 minutes of terrorizing virgins was way preferable to the crippling self-doubt I was fighting day and night.

This movie was the catalyst for my summer of coping with adulthood through fake blood exposure (which is also the title of my first self-help book, probably). So, without further self-reflection, I give you Vamp:

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Movie: Vamp

Availability: Streaming on Netflix

Hide Under Blanket Moments: 2 (elevator danger and cockroach snacking)

Naked Dude Sightings: Zero, although we do get some bare upper dude body for a second

Plot Synopsis Pulled from Dubious Internet Source: “Two fraternity pledges go to a sleazy bar looking for strippers to entertain their college friends. They have problems with transportation, Biker gangs, and worst of all, the staff of the bar, all of whom seem to be vampires, with Grace Jones playing the head vampire.” –Some Rando on IMDB

5-Second Review: Grace Jones is mesmerizing in sometimes cool, sometimes goofy ways, the main characters are a little dull, lots of the movie makes very little sense, it’s about 20 to 30 minutes too long, but it’s also pretty fun and I recommend starting your own horror journey with it.

Goes best with: Champagne and pizza. Blood and cockroaches if you really want an immersive Vamp experience.

Top 5 “Wait…no… What?” Moments

5. This apparently color-coded gang of people you think are vampires but (spoiler) are not actually

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The first odd thing is that membership in this gang seems contingent upon being an albino man or black woman. We meet them when our protagonists offend them somehow (so testy, these cultural stereotypes), and there’s a bit of a rumble among them before the dude-bros can escape to Vampire Strip Club of Death Featuring Grace Jones. This confrontational scene in the diner deals in some pretty obviously terrible stereotypes, relying on culturally embedded characterizations of albino people as evil and black women as savage or bestial (the black women don’t actually use any words in the scene, instead communicating through growls). We’ll be seeing this gang throughout the movie. I hate that this has to be said, but denying characters (especially those who are members of marginalized groups and are thus infrequently represented in mainstream fare) of their basic humanity in representation is shitty. Huge duh.

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What’s weird about the gang is that they’re presented as vampires. The viewer assumes they’re vampires. They show up after dark. They seem super evil. The men are pale, and the film focuses on the women’s teeth. These are codified vampire things. But they’re not, which you don’t find out until the end and not even in a twist-y kind of way, but in a “how did you not know they weren’t vampires?!” kind of way. Like, I don’t know, man. They were doing some hardcore vampire shit.

4. The Implausible Strip Club Dead Zone

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Our protagonists. Would do and would do.

The two main characters are frat pledges who want to be frat-bros (because hot babes, bro, tubular) so they make a deal with the Super Important Bros (what are they actually called? Ministers of Fratitude?): they’re in, IF they can find a stripper for the frat’s party that night. But, oh no, where are they gonna find a stripper?! So, our heroes get a ride to the nearest place they can find strippers, some city that is hundreds of miles and several hours away.

Yes, reader, you read that correctly. This movie’s entire plot is set in motion by the following conditions: A) this fraternity has no existing infrastructure in place for stripper/exotic dancer procurement and has to outsource the task to a couple of freshmen, B) there are no women who strip in a moderately-sized college town, and C) there are no women who strip within hundreds of miles of this moderately-sized college town. I adamantly call bullshit on all three counts.

Were you to reverse the genders of strippers involved here, I might buy it. I feel like I’ve been searching for a male strip club in each successive town I’ve moved to and have yet to find one. I have, however, been able to find venues advertising female strippers pretty much everywhere. There used to be a law in my state that the capital had to be located so that it was possible to reach it by horse in one day from any location in the state. I’m pretty sure a similar rule has been written into the constitution. But it’s on a national level, and instead of the capital it’s a strip club.

3. The Guy Who Played Long Duk Dong Doesn’t Play a Racist Stereotype in this Movie

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Our heroic dude-bros need to get an implausible ride to Stripperville. Wanna know who they get the ride from? Some obnoxious rich asshole… played by Gedde Watanabe! AKA the guy who played Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles in 1984! AKA the worst Asian character of the 1980s (seriously, the fucking ’80s which, you’ll agree, was not our nation’s most culturally sensitive decade)! Amazingly, though, Watanabe doesn’t play a super offensive Asian caricature who’s more of a joke than a person. He’s just a normal dude with too much money and an obvious desperation for friendship. His ethnicity isn’t played for laughs! Woo, progress!

2. This guy might know this girl at the strip club from high school or something? But it doesn’t matter?

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One of the protagonists knows this girl at the strip club (the only stripper who’s not a vampire). Or doesn’t. She keeps going, “I can’t believe you don’t remember me!” and he’s like, “Were you in my history class?” and she all playfully goes, “Um…no!” And then eventually she tells him where he knows her from, but it’s so boring I don’t even remember what it was and I don’t care enough to look it up.

1. Grace Jones.

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Everything she does.

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All of it.

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Grace Jones gives the unsexiest strip tease I’ve ever seen in this movie. She reveals almost nothing. She does it in a red clown wig. And yet it’s mesmerizing.

Her character is supposed to be the vampiric version of Cleopatra, which is pretty spot on, because Jones radiates the glamour and confidence that makes it really plausible she’s one of history’s most iconic women. And the character is fucking boss. Men crumble at her feet or are literally devoured by her. Oh, also [SPOILER ALERT FOR THE BEST PART OF THE MOVIE]: when she’s killed by the light of day (boo!), the ash shell of her corpse gives the protagonist the finger. Bless you, Grace Jones, you glorious bad ass.

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Couldn’t find a screenshot from the ashy finger, but this is a beautifully photographed approximation.

Next week’s review will be of The Stuff, in which sentient low-calorie ice cream goes on a killing spree.

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