Haunted: Best Horror Movie Endings

Aside

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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.

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Killer Queens: Favorite Women of Cult Horror

Note: The following contains a somewhat graphic discussion of horror films and events therein, which may be upsetting to some readers in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy. 

 
This is not a list of horror’s greatest Virtuous Lady Survivors, or Final Girls, a much-parsed trope you can read about on several other blogs. Nor is it a list of Sexually Liberated Friends (AKA The Slutty Blonde Ones), although an exploration of this horror trope is overdue. I just wanted to list some of the most memorable performances of my lengthy horror adventure. [Spoilers abound, including for “You’re Next”, which is still in theaters]

4. Wahrwilfs and Wall Beans
“Werewolf” (1996) – Natalie Burke, played by Adrianna Miles

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As Natalie Burke, Adrianna Miles slurs and blankly stares her way through an already-ridiculous plot, heightening the film to schlocky horror high art, on the level of Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room”. I mean, she pronounces “werewolf” “wahrwilf,” you guys. THE MOVIE’S TITLE IS “WEREWOLF.” Miles’ performance is the most hilariously terrible thing I have ever seen. You should be impressed, because I was a theatre minor in college and took an introductory acting class with virtually half of the football team’s defensive line (note: screaming all of your dialogue ≠ A+ acting). In a genre full of stilted, terrible performances, Miles’ has stayed with me the longest. It’s so memorable due in part to her line readings, which lie at a convergence of a thick accent, no acting experience and an apparent inability to understand the words she’s saying.

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Her line, “I’m worried about your well-being!” pronounced by Miles as, “I’m vurried bout your wall bean!” is something my boyfriend and I still say to each other all the time. “Werewolf” is a fairly popular MST3K episode, and Miles, thanks to her “I have no idea where I am!” performance, is an MST3K fan favorite.

3. Dead Mom Sex and a Perfectly Executed Smoky Eye

“You’re Next” (2013) – Zee, played by Wendy Glenn

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“You’re Next” is one of my favorite recent horror films, offering both genuine laughs and innovative kills (blenders as you’ve never seen them before!). Also: I would include the movie’s lead, the gritty and irrepressible Erin, in the Virtuous Lady Survivors list. But when Wendy Glenn’s smoky-eyed Zee first appeared on screen, I leaned over to my boyfriend in the movie theater and whispered, “Zee is awesome!” My first impression of her was pretty spot on. And, yes, I regarded her favorably in part because she’s all hot and Suicide Girl-y, but also because female horror villains are fairly common, but rarely do they seem as bored as Zee does in this movie. When introduced to her boyfriend’s family, she reacts like your average, hard-to-impress hipster stereotype (she seems modeled after Jane from “Daria” in that respect), but she remains hilariously disinterested even when people start dying really grisly deaths.

Horror Movie Trope: Exposed Bra Straps = Evil

My favorite moment is when she tries to get her murderous boyfriend to have sex with her next to his mother’s corpse, and, when he declines (huge duh, Zee), she reacts like he just said he’s scared to try a new restaurant. I wish Super Evil, Bored, Hot Bitch Lady was more of thing. Hey, Horror: make this more of a thing.

2. World’s Best Vampire Queen and also Best Giver of Finger
“Vamp” (1986) – Katrina, played by Grace Jones

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From last week’s review of “Vamp”: “Her character is supposed to be the vampire 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.”

1. Sing along. Or else.
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers” (1988) and “Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland” (1989) – Angela, played by Pamela Springsteen (Bruce Springsteen’s sister? Yes, Bruce Springsteen’s sister.)

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Angela is a deeply problematic character, primarily because of the crazy transphobia stuff going on in the first “Sleepaway Camp.” Not to spoil it, but Angela’s (she’s the killer, btw) primary motivation is that she unwillingly underwent gender reassignment after being adopted by her weird aunt. The movie feeds into Silence of the Lambs-variety bullshit portraying trans people as dangerous and/or unhinged due to living outside of the gender binary. But Springsteen’s performance in the film’s two sequels is fucking boss and the trans origin myth of the first “Sleepaway Camp” barely if ever warrants a mention in these two sequels. Springsteen takes the role over from child actor Felissa Rose who presumably wanted to go to high school in peace instead of filming sequels to a movie in which she played a tweenager who decapitates her love interest before showing the world her prosthetic penis.

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She’s super going to decapitate that guy later. And then go to college and never tell anyone about her child acting career.

Anyway, Springsteen plays a murderous camp counselor who punishes her campers for being “bad,” i.e. not conforming to a puritan idea of sexual propriety. What’s so enjoyable is how little suspense there is to these two movies. You know in the first five minutes of “Sleepaway Camp II” that perky Angela is the killer doing away with all the naughty campers. Really, these films just consist of watching Angela kill the shit out of people who: insult her, have sex, refuse to sing camp songs or just generally don’t have a happy camper attitude. This is amazing and enjoyable and Angela will probably remind you of a too-perky RA or camp counselor you had once.

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Honorable Mentions:

Sleepaway Camp: Angela’s Aunt

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Ernest Scared Stupid: Eartha Kitt as Old Lady Hackmore

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So, later this week you can expect a review of The Stuff (1985), a biting satire and/or sloppy horror movie about low-fat yogurt bent on world domination.

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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