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?

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.

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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.

Yogurt Zombies: A Review of The Stuff

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Movie: The Stuff (1985)

Availability: Streaming on Netflix

Hide Under Blanket Moments: Zero. Too incompetent to really scare anyone, even me.

Naked Dude Sightings: Zero. Goddammit. Not that any of the dudes in this movie made me all helloooooooo, especially not Paul Sorvino. Sorry, Paul Sorvino.

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Plot Synopsis Pulled From Sketchy Internet Source: “A delicious mysterious goo that oozes from the Earth is marketed as the newest dessert sensation. But the sugary treat rots more than teeth when zombie-like snackers begin infesting the world.” –IMDB

Mini-Review: The central premise could be a clever satire in the hands of someone (anyone?) else. America’s food industry is pretty ripe for a takedown, but The Stuff is crushed by the weight of its own incomprehensible plot, or, like the film’s Yogurt-Zombies, explodes due to build-up of nonsense-goo. Pick your own metaphor. This movie is terrible, but the first 2/3 or so is really watchably terrible.

Goes best with: Ice cream. Or frozen yogurt. I’ve gotten really into Greek Go-Gurt recently (because I’m making a compromise with my impending adulthood, I guess? Like, I’ll eat healthier desserts, but only if they’re in a plastic tube with a cartoon skateboarding rabbit on it) and that goes pretty well with a Stuff screening.

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Review: Hey, wanna talk about the unsustainability of America’s food industry? Consumer ignorance? Corporate irresponsibility? How these factors contribute to the ever-widening distance between our farms and our tables? No? Good, because I’m only vaguely interested/absolutely unqualified to hold court on this. The Stuff knows even less about these things than I do, even accounting for its inability to see into the future. But, like that one dude at the party you feel bad about wanting to fuck, it has no problem discussing at length a topic about which it has very little knowledge.

Great horror movies are memorable because they’re grotesques of our society’s biggest faults and moral blind spots. Ultimately, they hold up a funhouse mirror to the audience. A good example: Dawn of the Dead’s subtle commentary on mounting American consumerism. Or most episodes of the original Twilight Zone series. I think this is what The Stuff is going for, but I also think that it was derailed at every level of its production. Writing? Terrible. Direction? Terrible. Effects? Fucking awful. Acting? The adults are okay, but the child actor, upon whom much of the film’s moral weight rests, is terrible and annoying and you, like me, will probably be rooting for his death 15 minutes into the movie.

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Also, there’s a whole, terrible military subplot that mostly makes no goddamn sense (the military group’s home base is located at what my boyfriend called “Castle MacGuffin”). This plot thread stretches the already-strained Big Picture thing the movie is going for. Instead of saying, “Look at yourselves, audience!” the movie is more like, “Hey, look at… wait, no, what? Like, yogurt is bad, maybe? But military’s worse, kind of? Hey, look, it’s Paul Sorvino!”

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The Stuff wants to be Dawn of the Dead. It is not. Dawn of the Dead had a brain, and a voice and point of view. The Stuff doesn’t and, worse, thinks it does. This is what makes it a great terrible movie. It doesn’t just fail, it does so with confidence. I hate this quality in people: confident incompetence is the fucking worst when it’s your dickhead coworker or most of your local politicians. But terrible movies like The Stuff are at their best when they boldly go to new, shitty depths.

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Go, watch The Stuff. Enjoy responsibly, fellow adults. *toasts you with Go-Gurt tube*

Squeamish to Screamish: the Horror Virgin Origin Story

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The thing about horror movies is that I didn’t watch them. Until this summer, the only scary movies I had seen were experienced in snippets: slices of movie viewed through the gaps between my fingers, a blur in my peripheral vision as I left the movie theater, and the stomach-churning sound effects which continued to reach me even as I buried my face in a couch cushion… that is, with one notable exception.

My family got a premium cable subscription when I was in my tweens–an ill-timed upgrade that gave an intensely sexually curious twelve-year-old access to the boobalicious world of late night cable. This was a couple of years before every savvy tween was streaming hardcore cake-sitting porn on their phones. So, I ravenously searched the cable guide for any and every upcoming movie promising nudity or sensuality. You know what film genre composes a surprisingly large portion of those hot R-rated treats I so desired? Yes, reader, it’s horror. Good job. You must have followed context clues. Also potentially titles of things.

So, you also understand, from the aforementioned horror movie aversion, that this presented my tween self with a dilemma.

“Watch the movie! Indulge your weird downstairs feelings!” said my hormones. “No, but… tension and inevitable gore. Alone. In your basement,” said my brain and also every fiber of my being that wasn’t my genitalia. “But potential male nudity!” I would counter (I always held out hope for some male nudity. Oh, those wasted hours of waiting for naked dudes who would never arrive!).

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My lady bits won, and so I would sit in an armchair in my basement with a blanket over my face waiting for the sex scenes to look at the screen. The first major obstacle was that people being gruesomely murdered in horror movies make the same sounds as people engaging in super-fun carnal activities in horror movies. With a blanket over my face, it was nearly impossible to tell the difference, so I would pop my head out, hopeful that I was hearing a really vocal sex scene only to watch a girl get her guts torn out with a fishhook.

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[Note: So, a quick thing about this whole female moans of pleasure and grisly death thing: if this were an essay for one of my gender studies classes, I would really delve into the problematic characterization of women as whores and victims in these films, noting how the female body is the object upon which the twin male fantasies of the sexual and the violent are enacted. This is, however, my first blog and I will save academic considerations of terrible horror films for later posts. Don’t you worry, readers, I will totally use the words “marginalized” and “dichotomy” a lot.]

Anyway, I ended up “watching” a lot of horror movies this way (under a blanket) for a couple of years, but went back to avoiding them completely when I was old enough to sate my prodigious horniness in less gory ways.

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Basically this.

Then, this summer, my boyfriend and I watched Vamp, a cult classic vampire stripper movie from the 80s starring Grace Jones (the picture at the top is Jones doing her thing in Vamp), and I began to become addicted to the movies that I had once only dared watch under the safety of an old blanket.

So, I will be recreating my cinematic journey here in the form of reviews of individual horror-ish movies in the order I watched them and discovered my love of the genre.

Expect the following reviews to come:

Vamp

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The Stuff (not really a horror movie, but it’s part of the journey and is also amazingly awful)

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Hellraiser

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Class of Nuke-Em High

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The Best of MST3K Horror Episodes (Including Manos: The Hands of Fate and Werewolf)

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The Evil Dead

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The Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness (Army of Darkness isn’t really horror, but I can’t just review the first two and exclude the third)

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Sleepaway Camp

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Sleepaway Camp Sequels (2-4)

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Return of the Killer Tomatoes (Again, not horror, but a dude fucks a tomato, so I’d be remiss to exclude it)

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