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?

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*

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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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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