Monday, October 24, 2016


"In order to appease the gods, the Druid priests held fire rituals. Prisoners of war, criminals, the insane, animals... were... burned alive in baskets. By observing the way they died, the Druids believed they could see omens of the future. Two thousand years later, we've come no further. Samhain isn't evil spirits. It isn't goblins, ghosts or witches. It's the unconscious mind. We're all afraid of the dark inside ourselves."
-Dr Sam Loomis, Halloween II

Original art by Townes Murr (12)
Past the halfway point in the first sequel to John Carpenter's beloved horror classic, HALLOWEEN, Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance) says the above words in reference to the word "Samhain" written in blood on a blackboard in the school. This scene was fairly minor, but pointed to a possible supernatural explanation for Michael Myers-as opposed to the original film where Loomis certainly believes Michael to be pure evil, but the connection to the holiday of Halloween seems more coincidental than ritualistic. The bloody "Samhain" hints towards something deeper, but at the end of the film it's a plot thread that is left unresolved. 

HALLOWEEN III; SEASON OF THE WITCH is expressly about Paganism and the roots of Halloween or Samhain. There's no connection to the first two films (in fact, we see a TV advert for the original in the background of the bar Tom Atkin's character is drinking at, seemingly confirming this is a different universe, but, hey, what if it's just a movie based on the earlier events?) and there was never meant be. Carpenter and producer Debra Hill had conceived SOTW as a way turning HALLOWEEN into an anthology series. Those plans were dashed by critical and fan backlash, of course. 'Where's Michael? We don't want anything new or original..!' Which is too bad, because it has taken over 30 years for SOTW to get some of the respect it deserves for being a legitimately creepy and original story. If it had come out instead of HALLOWEEN II or just under the title of SEASON OF THE WITCH it would have likely been a much bigger movie. 

So with the anthology concept in the toilet, producer Moustapha Akkad brought back Michael for HALLOWEEN 4; THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS. Written by Alan B McEllroy and directed byDwight H Little, RETURN brought us to a high security facility where Michael, in a coma since the end of II, is being held. The time has come to transfer him (why???) and enroute he kills the attendents and escapes, making a b-line for Haddonfield, with Dr Loomis hot on his trail. Though critics disliked RETURN as well, the film did a good job of bringing back Michael and was a well crafted story. We learn that Michael's sister and object of his murderous rage, Laurie Strode, has died in a car accident and her daughter, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), has been adopted by the Carruthers family. When Loomis reaches Haddonfield to warn the police, things go crazy. Michael massacres everyone at the police department while a lynch mob of locals hunt him down. This gives RETURN a slightly different flavor from I and II, people remember 'the night HE came home' and they're not going to sit back and let that shit happen again. It's not a perfect movie, but there's a lot to love and it sits nicely next to the first two. Plus, for me, it was the brand new when I first got into horror films. The issue covering the film was the first Fangoria I ever bought, those two factors might color my enthusiasm for RETURNS, but only a bit, since the film still holds up well.  

At the end of RETURNS we see Michael shot to hell before he falls down a mine shaft and a deputy throws dynamite down with him. Michael has, of course, survived. He made it out of the mine and to the shack of an old hermit, where he returns to his coma for exactly one year. he awakens on the next Halloween and kills the hermit and heads back to Haddonfield. I liked the hermit bit a lot, because it was a throw back to the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, where the monster is taken in by the old blind man. So with Michael back in Haddonfield a year later and again going after Jamie, it seems like business as usual, until a mysterious man in black gets off the bus in Haddonfield. Jamie is now mute and living in a special children's hospital after being traumatized by the events of RETURN, including the murdering of her adoptive mother. A psychic link between her and Michael has emerged, as opposed to her becoming a killer as hinted with the ending of RETURN. She knows Michael is coming and Loomis, desperate to end the madness, exploits her psychic link, and uses Jamie as bait to lure Michael to his old house. Loomis is backed up by Sheriff Meeker and a police force, who surely wanted revenge themselves for all their fallen brothers in the last film. Naturally, nothing goes according to plan; half the cops are tricked away, basically leaving Loomis and Jamie to fend for themselves against Michael. In the end, Loomis is finally able to beat Michael down, before having a stroke. Then Meeker is able to arrest Michael-a first for the series. Instead of Michael being believed dead and disappearing, we see him in chains in a jail cell, awaiting the National Guard to take him away. Then the man in black arrives at the jail and kills everyone, blowing Michael's cell door off. the last thing we see is Jamie finding Michael's cell empty. Roll credits. 

After the biggest What The Fuck moment of the franchise to date, we have a six year time jump for THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS, conceived by screenwriter Daniel Farrands after several attempts were made to get HALLOWEEN 6 to the big screen. Unfortunately for Farrands, a die hard, well-versed HALLOWEEN fan, and franchise fans in general, when CURSE finally arrived it was a boring, plot hole ridden, neutered affair. This was due to a lot of unnecessary behind-the-scenes drama, re-shoots, and an end product that was a half measure and a poor excuse for a sequel. It was known among fandom though that there was a different version out there, with 43 minutes of additional footage and a completely different ending. This is what's called 'The Producer's Cut.' There is also a director's cut, which is mostly the theatrical release with added gore. 

The theatrical cut reduced the set up from REVENGE to a minor plot point which mostly fizzled out by the end and even the CURSE in the title seemed a generic, tacked on title. The Producer's Cut on the other hand, takes us back to 1989, when the man in black breaks Michael out of jail and we see both Michael and Jamie being kidnapped by the man in black and some henchman. They've held Jamie all this time, waiting for the stars to align and letting Michael rape and impregnate her with a child destined to be Michael's final sacrifice, before the curse that has given him his strength and invincibility would be passed on to another child and Michael would cease to be. 

The Producer's Cut is so ridiculously superior that it vexes me the theatrical cut ever saw the light of day. One thing it does is give us an actual Thorn Cult, which is not so different from the pagan cult that uses a toy factory as a front for it's nefarious plans in SOTW and ties back to the bloody "Samhain" Michael leaves behind in II. Michael is also given a purpose and an explanation. This part many fans balk at (including Carpenter) because they liked the mystery of why Michael is doing all this anyway, or that he's simply the embodiment of pure evil. I think that's fine for I, but we can't have a single sequel without some explanation that can be built on with each successive chapter. If all we had was a mute indestructible killer for eight films no one would give a shit, so why the hate for evolving the story? I've never understood that. 

At any rate, now that we have the Producer's Cut officially available (it was passed around by bootleggers for years) we can take in 4-6 as a whole, their own trilogy within the franchise, not unlike FRIDAY THE 13TH PARTS 4-6. The Producer's Cut actually wraps up what we'll call the Jamie Saga. In the theatrical cut Michael kills Jamie in the opening minutes of the film after she has escaped with her baby and hidden it away. In TPC, she survives that attack, at least for a while longer. Meanwhile, another character from I returns, Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd), the little boy Laurie was babysitting on that original Halloween night. He suffers from PTSD, obsessively hunts for Michael, and tries to convince others that Michael is still out there. He's also the only one who finds Jamie's baby before trying to contact Dr Loomis. Loomis has spent the last few years in retirement, recovering from his stroke when he's approached by his old colleague, Dr Wynn, who wants Loomis to return to the hospital to take over as administrator. His offer though, has to take a backseat when he hears Jamie pleading for his help on a radio call-in show. So Loomis and Wynn head to Haddonfield. From there, we are introduced to a young boy named Danny who is hearing "the call," the same call that Michael heard the night he murdered his older sister back in 1963. So we're getting a sense of legacy here and a seemingly end to Michael's mission. 

By the time all the pieces are in place, we've seen the Thorn Cult, we've seen Michael under their control, the man in black is back, we know they wanted to sacrifice Jamie's baby, and crazy Tommy Doyle is seemingly the only person who knows what's going on and what it might take to stop Michael. It's the widest scope storytelling wise that we've been treated to so far. We still get some classic HALLOWEEN stalk and slash, but it feels less by-the-numbers. Eventually, the cult gets the drop on Tommy and Loomis and get their hands on the baby, Danny, and his mom, Kara. Wynn reveals himself as the man in black and the head of the Thorn, before drugging Tommy and Loomis. When they come too, they chase Wynn and company to the hospital to save the day and stop Michael from sacrificing the baby and from Danny sacrificing his mom. None of this occurs in the theatrical cut. It all has something to do with DNA and there's no robes and altar cult, just a bunch of doctors, who Michael massacres in the hospital for some reason. In TPC, we get treated to pagan ritual and a very different face off between Tommy and Michael. Frankly, it's more satisfying the way Tommy defeats Michael using runes in TPC vs fighting Michael in the theatrical. In the end, Tommy escapes with the baby, Kara, and Danny, while Loomis stays behind to put an end to Michael once and for all. The theatrical version ends vaguely, Michael's probably alive and he probably just killed Loomis. In TPC, Loomis finds Michael laid out in the hallway. He unmasks him, to discover that Wynn has been put in Michael's clothes. As Wynn dies, he grabs Loomis's hand and transfers the curse, which manifests itself as the Thorn symbol appearing on Loomis's wrist, mirroring the mark we see on Michael in REVENGE. And then we see Michael escaping dressed as the man in black. 

It's fairly brilliant. Wynn is dead, which would likely cause the cult to fold, Michael has escaped again, this time free of Wynn's influence, and the next creative team to take over could take Michael in a whole new direction-as they do in HALLOWEEN; H20. the problem with that film, though is the way they pick and choose what to keep from the last three films. primarily the part where Laurie dies in a car accident, but it's revealed they she faked her death and started a new life. H20 is a fairly great film, except there is no mention of Jamie at all and everyone acts as if there's been no sign of Michael in twenty years. In the actual timeline, CURSE happened just two years earlier and there's no way Laurie would have missed the news of the three major events of RETURN, REVENGE, and CURSE. Had those three films been referenced even in the least it would give more foundation to her ongoing fear of Halloween night.
I can understand the decision to ignore 4-6 to clear baggage for Laurie's return, but the film spends too much of the first half of the film beating us over the head with how damaged Laurie still is, but gives us a fantastic climax where Laurie faces Michael, kicking ass and finally bringing their story to a very final end when she chops his head off. It's done. Come back from that, Mike! Of course, the next film RESURRECTION pisses all over this with a stupid plot twist that reveals that it wasn't Michael's head that got cut off, blah blah puke. RESURRECTION is literally the worst film in  the franchise and one of the worst films I've ever seen. No more words will I waste on it. 

So, yea, I love the Jamie Saga and we're very, very lucky to have TPC available to bring it to a proper close. At this point HALLOWEEN will be limping along toward a new sequel under Blumhouse with Carpenter returning in a producer's capacity. It's pretty clear they aren't interested in reviving anything from the Thorn, opting instead to return to the tone and mystery of the original. Fine, I'll watch it enthusiastically. For fans of the Jamie/Thorn Saga Farands and Philip Nutman (author of the excellent zombie novel WETWORK) continued the story through a Chaos Comics mini-series and later Devil's Due Publishing, which connected CURSE with H20 and beyond, including what would have been Farand's pitch for the eighth film, which would have been fantastic and would NOT have featured Busta Rhymes fighting Michael.         

(Special thanks to my son Townes for providing some Thorn inspired original artwork!)

Thursday, October 20, 2016


You ever find one of those people on social media who constantly posts cool stuff that you always agree with and is a hell of a good writer to boot? Yea, that's Albert Muller aka @aj_macready on Twitter. He's a contributor to Horror View and now Daily Grindhouse (this link will take you directly to Albert's fantastic piece on 2002'S FRAILTY starring Bill Paxton and Mathew McConaughey.)

So continuing with our series of Top 3 Favorite horror films (scroll down for previous lists from Jeffery X Martin and Ghoulish Gary Poulin) I asked this 'writer and pop culture addict' for his...

John Carpenter's THE THING is the answer you give when someone says "all remakes suck." Not only does Carpenter honor the original film and the story that it's based on (WHO GOES THERE by John W Campbell) but he creates something wholly original and unique and constructs an experience very few movies can match for it's inventiveness and visual delights. A lone sled dog is chased by a helicopter into an American research camp in Antarctica. The crew take the dog in, but nothing is as it seems. It's not long before the seemingly innocent dog unleashes a Lovecraftian horror unlike anything we'd ever seen on screen before! Rick Botin's special FX work is fucking incredible-consider that it was made in 1982 with no CGI and almost every shot is a work of art. (Carpenter wisely set aside five months just for creating the special FX). THE THING delivers on being both scary and gory, but also on creating fully developed characters we can relate to and become emotionally entangled in their struggle for survival. It is as much a standard bearer for great horror films as '86's THE FLY or '78's HALLOWEEN.

Speaking of...

Let's face it, John Carpenter absolutely earned the title Horror Master. As a writer, director, and composer even when he's not at his best, he's still better than a lot of the competition! Halloween (1978) wasn't the first slasher film, but it sure as hell launched the slasher craze of the 1980s. Telling the story of Michael Myers aka The Shape who returns home after escaping from an insane asylum fifteen years after killing his older sister. He is pursued by his therapist, Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Michael unleashes terror on the town of Haddonfield as he slashes through some babysitters, working his way to Laurie Strode (the legendary top scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis-daughter of another great scream queen, Janet Leigh of PSYCO). Carpenter's score on it's own can strike fear in the hearts of adults. The slow burn, high tension masked killer flick is still scary almost forty years later and spawned a slew of sequels and remakes, not to mention an endless parade of imitators.

The Exorcist has a reputation for being one of the most frightening films ever made. It's not hype. Not
only is William Friedkin's amazing classic scary, but it is a shocking and nerve wracking experience. A girl named Regan plays with a ouija board and unwittingly opens herself up to demon possession. From there THE EXORCIST spirals into a dual with the Devil unlike anything captured on film before and rarely-and even then hardly reaching these dizzying heights-since. THE EXORCIST is an integral part of the birth of the modern horror film, which likely starts with Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in 1969, where the horror film 'grew up' and started catering to a more mature, even adult crowd. Where the rubber monster suit was put away and the monsters came from within or were our neighbors. In the case of the supernatural/paranormal films like THE EXORCIST, CARRIE, or the AMITYVILLE HORROR the old haunted house moved to the suburbs and reflected the skyrocketing divorce rates and the general decay of the traditional family unit. THE EXORCIST, based on William Peter Blatty's novel is as much a timeless film as it is a film that wormed it's way straight to the fears of the 1970's audience.

I don't know what else there is to say about these picks, I mean everyone has a different top three, but you can't disregard THE THING, HALLOWEEN, or THE EXORCIST. These are films that have survived and will continue to survive trends, generational tastes, and the highs and lows of the genre itself. Thanks, Albert for sharing your top 3 favorite horror films! 

Monday, October 17, 2016


Original art by Stephanie Murr 2016
Hands down my favorite director is David Cronenberg, by a country mile. Ever since I saw THE FLY it has been imperative for me to not just see, but own his films, especially anything from his body horror era. I was 10 when Siskel and Ebert reviewed THE FLY and the whole concept as well as the promise of a gory thrill ride was just too much for me to resist. Though I was still at a point where I was scared to death of a TV commercial of Friday The 13th, I had started watching TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, re-runs of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and I was just getting into NIGHT FLIGHT and COMMANDER USA'S GROOVY MOVIES. A slasher was still a year so away from something I could handle, but THE FLY captured my imagination in a way that FRANKENSTEIN had when I was much younger and got the Remco 8" action figure. Monsters were something I'd long since embraced and in my mind they weren't horror, at least not in the sense that Jason or Freddy were. Monsters were often misunderstood, like Frankenstein, and I knew about the original THE FLY (1958) and he was misunderstood as well. I was 11 when I finally got to rent THE FLY and it definitely didn't let me down, in fact I'd say it went much farther than I was expecting and shook me up pretty hard. There were deeper ideas and concepts that flew over my head and I never imagined something so gory could actually exist.
Over the years, I worked my way through Cronenberg's filmography and through his various eras and was nearly always impressed and entertained. For the purpose of this series, I'm looking specifically at his body horror work starting with SHIVERS, skipping FAST COMPANY, and ending with THE FLY. DEAD RINGERS could probably be added, but it lacks that specific sci-fi/horrorific/fantastic element of the films that preceded it. Then there's NAKED LUNCH, which I could also probably add, but really NAKED LUNCH stands out as a singular work and I already covered my relationship with both the film and William Burroughs book.
Starting with 1975's SHIVERS, Cronenberg's debut is a towering achievement for a first time director and would set the stage for themes Cronenberg would continue to explore beyond his horror work. Set in a suburban high rise, where the inhabitants are being turned into sex crazed zombies by a parasite that spreads through sexual contact, SHIVERS turns George Romero's Living Dead weirdly and grossly erotic. Also, there's a strange kinship to JG Ballard's novel HIGH RISE, which was published the same year. SHIVERS isn't a flawless achievement, however, it's cheap and there are certainly scenes that drag a bit, but it has, without a doubt, a pretty amazing ending. Right up there with INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

In 1977's RABID, Cronenberg takes the zombie threat outside the high rise. This time, the infection is being spread by a young woman with a thirst for blood after undergoing an experimental surgery. Her victims grow quickly plunging the city into madness. Starring Marilynn Chambers in her first non-porn role, RABID is a medical horror mashup of vampirism and zombies. With some similar themes carried over from SHIVERS, it ups the ante with production levels and better cinematography as well as better performances and a more thought out plot device. Chambers, known for her hardcore career, starring in films like BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR, showed some real acting skills, but I believe this was her only non-porn role. Between SHIVERS and RABID Cronenberg was treating us to a brand of horror we weren't used to-the monster wasn't out there, it wasn't 'the other', it was us, it was in us. These two films certainly helped inspire Dan O'Bannon while writing ALIEN.

I saw 1979's THE BROOD on USA, not knowing it was a Cronenberg, and it scared the shit out of me. I was probably 11 or 12 and those deformed kids in the snow suits were just frightening. THE BROOD is about divorce and the physical manifestation of rage. A creepy slow burn, more personal and nuanced than the previous films. (Less Lee More has a great review HERE.) Starring Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar, THE BROOD, on it's surface is about a father trying to protect his daughter from her mother who has been subjected to radical, experimental psychotherapy, but as with most Cronenberg films, the surface plot is window dressing for the subtext, which is always more creepy and enthralling.

Since the first time I watched 1981's SCANNERS I've wanted to see Cronenberg take on THE X-MEN, which he sort of does with this film anyway. Scanners are people with telepathic/telekinetic abilities, caused by a lab experiment. Michael Ironside stars as Darryl Revok, the film's Magneto, who leads an underground group of Scanners. THE PRISONER's Patrick MacGoohan is the film's Professor X, sort of, he created the Scanner's and enlists another Scanner, Cameron Vale, played by Stephen Lack, to stop Revok. It's a hell of a good story and spawned a franchise, which Cronenberg had nothing to do with. There were two direct sequels and two spin off films, SCANNER COP I and II. Like with many franchises, SCANNERS suffers from the law of diminishing returns, but that doesn't hurt the original, which stands head and shoulders above many other genre flicks for being such a unique experience, not to mention with probably the greatest exploding head scene in the history of cinema. I took on SCANNERS  in My Heroes Have Always Been Monsters Part 35.

1983's VIDEODROME is a subversive, hallucinogenic,  and philosophical masterpiece. It was Cronenberg's most ambitious film to date with some amazing special FX from Rick Baker and touches of the avant garde.  The story follows Max Renn (James Woods), a sleazeball TV producer looking for sleazier programming to satisfy his viewers' tastes. He discovers a strange program called Videodrome, which opens his world to a bizarre conspiracy. Also starring Debbie Harry, Videodrome is possibly Cronenberg's most rewatchable and quotable movie. The film has nightmarish layers that peel back as the film winds deeper  and deeper into it's creepy and bizarre brand of body horror-this time though, inanimate objects come to life, merging with the human form. The practical effects look so amazing. The idea that these guys were doing these things, like making a TV come to life, in camera is still amazing. The behind the scenes documentary that comes with the Criterion edition is really fascinating.

Also, from 1983, Cronenberg stepped away from body horror to adapt Stephen King's THE DEAD ZONE, starring Christopher Walken. Walken plays Johnny Smith who after spending five years in a coma awakens to discover he can see into the future. He uses his power to help the cops, but when he meets a slimy politician, played by Martin Sheen, and sees a horrifying vision of the future, he's forced to make some very difficult decisions. THE DEAD ZONE doesn't look or feel like a Cronenberg film, at least none produced up to that point. The horror is subdued, there is little bloodshed, and certainly none of his signature from-within horror. Even the small town Maine setting is a bizarre choice, yet THE DEAD ZONE is still a solid film, showing how versatile Cronenberg will become in his post-body horror era.

And that brings us to 1986's THE FLY. It's hard to express just how much I love this movie. This is the exact kind of science fiction I really dig. Spaceships and future-scapes are fine, but I like sci-fi when it's our world, with just a tweak-just a little off. Robocop and Alien Nation are good examples. With THE FLY, it's Seth Brundle's teleportation pods. The film stars Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum. Goldblum plays an eccentric scientist working on a revolutionary invention, the aforementioned pods. When he tests it on himself, something goes awry; a common house fly gets in the machine with him. Once the machine teleports him, his DNA gets mixed with the fly's and he begins to mutate, becoming more and more monsterous. Like VIDEODROME, THE FLY is inventive in the SFX department, from a rotating room to give the impression of Brundle actually walking up the wall and across the ceiling, to the sickening slow transformation Goldblum goes through. The film is elevated by the wonderful acting talents of Davis and Goldblum, not to mention their great on-screen chemistry (they also worked together on EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY and TRANSYLVANIA 65000). THE FLY is a remake of the 1958 film of the same name, starring Vincent Price. That film spawned two sequels. Cronenberg's only one, although I once read that Davis had planned to produce a second sequel entitled FLIES.

Cronenberg didn't completely abandon horror after THE FLY, there certainly touches of it through films like DEAD RINGERS, NAKED LUNCH, SPIDER, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, and MAPS TO THE STARS, but he moved on and has tried other things. Usually it works. For me though, I have no desire to rewatch his last three films, because they don't speak to me with the same intensity and vigor that VIDEDROME does. I think it would be great in Cronenberg would return to his roots one more time, but we should feel very lucky to have what we have, because no one else would have made these films.
***Also worth a mention is eXistenZ, while it features some signature body horror and some glorious set pieces, it really is more science fiction than horror, arriving in 1999, 13 years after THE FLY. It comes in between CRASH (adapted from another Ballard novel) and SPIDER (a psychologocal thriller) and feels like an odd choice in vehicles for Cronenberg since it seemed like he had moved away from this sort of storytelling.  In a way, it's VIDEDROME'S bad ass little sister, with it's fast and loose handling of reality and bio-tech fetishism.


Thursday, October 13, 2016


Do you read Jeffery X Martin? BLACK FRIDAY, STORIES ABOUT YOU, HUNTING WITCHES..? X is an old friend and an amazing writer. We used to perform at the same bar back in Knoxville. I was just a dumb kid and he was an early supporter. So I'm honored to run this, his second guest post for Stranger. Follow the LINK to get your hands on X's books. And now...

When I’m asked to make a list like this – and it’s always an honor to be asked to write anything for someone else – I realize how fluid my Top Ten list is. I watch a lot of horror, which makes sense given my occupation, and new great stuff pops up all the time. My Top Three, however, is pretty solid and doesn’t move about much. Well, not this week, anyway.

3. CARRIE (1976)  -- Not just one of the greatest horror movies, but one of the best films ever made. Carrie evokes so many emotions, watching it should be part of the Voight-Kampff test. Carrie is a stone cold classic. It manages to
excoriate organized religion, high school cliques, and the lack of information women receive about their own bodies. While things don’t end well for anyone in the film, Sissy Spacek is a marvel to watch as a girl who takes her personal power, embraces it, and uses it to set fires with her mind.  A pivotal piece of feminist cinema, and one of Brian De Palma’s finest directorial efforts,

2. JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980) – Carpenter’s follow-up to Halloween has often been looked upon as a flawed film (even by Carpenter himself, according to interviews), a soft lob after the non-stop intensity of the goings-on in Haddonfield. I respectfully disagree. Not only is The Fog as scary as Halloween, if not more so, it’s the best American ghost story filmed in the last forty years. It is a campfire nightmare come to life, complete with hidden treasure, the walking dead and ghostly lepers. It never operates outside of its own logic and the special effects, all practical, are surprisingly good. This solid scary movie holds up like suspenders, and is one of the few must-sees of the genre.

1.) SUSPIRIA (1977) – Dario Argento’s masterpiece is like nothing you’ve seen before. The story of an American girl who goes to Germany to continue her ballet training, Suspiria takes its fairy tale elements to the darkest corners of the magical forest. With a brilliant soundtrack, violent set-pieces, and witches that would make MacBeth run screaming from the forest, Suspiria sneaks into your brain and sets up residence. It will not leave. Suspiria is an assault on everything you’ve come to expect from the genre, and it stands alone as horror-art. Every horror movie that has come since owes some kind of debt to Suspiria. Not one of them has ever fully paid up.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Original art by Stephanie Murr 2016
I was very, very young. Younger than five, I know. I don't remember which house we lived in (we were moving every six months), but I remember the green carpet in the living room and being up with my mom waiting for my dad to get home. For whatever reason she didn't start making me go to bed until I was about five. I'd just be up playing with my Mego figures in front of the television. Often times I'd fall asleep right in front of the TV and I'd wake up when my dad was taking me to my bed. I usually didn't care about what was on TV, but I'd be half way watching it anyway. One night there was a movie on that I especially didn't care about, until this girl got a bunch of red stuff dumped on her.
"What did they just pour on her?" I asked
"Oh, it was just paint."
Then everything started going crazy. Doors were slamming shut, things were moving through the air, people were panicking. 
"What's happening?" There was this dread building in the pit of my stomach, I think it was that girl's eyes.
"Carrie's moving things around with her mind."
"She has a power."
Ah, like Spiderman, got it.
I distinctly remember that night, that movie, from the Prom scene to the end credits. I remember talking about it for days. Why did they pour paint on Carrie? Why did she use her power on everyone? These weren't questions that got serious answers, but I never forgot that movie. (Side note; Carrie was one of four horror films that one or both of my parents watched while I was in the room, pre-kindergarten, the other three were Jaws, which I loved, Alien, which I liked, but didn't fully get, and Dark Night of The Scarecrow, which scared the shit out of me.)
Well, it wasn't paint. It was pig blood. I found that out when I caught the movie on TV when I was about ten. I was pretty excited and I made note that the film was based on a book by Stephen King. The summer between fifth and sixth grade I got to read my first King novel, which was Cujo. The second was Carrie, which was King's debut. The film was directed by Brian DePalma and to me is still one of my favorite King adaptations. DePalma changed the narrative approach to the story, but that doesn't hurt the film as an adaptation at all.
Carrie is about a high school girl who develops telekinetic powers. Carrie is an outcast, raised by an insane, fundamentalist mother, and tormented by her classmates. After some bullies pull an incredibly cruel prank on Carrie she unleashes the full force of her powers on the entire school. It's a tale of budding sexuality, teen angst, and a lesson in being nice to the weird kid. 
The book came out in 1974 and the film in 1976. Carrie is as much responsible for my interest in parapsychology as The Uncanny X-Men and Scanners. I haven't reread the book since sixth grade, but I liked it better than Cujo and not quite as much as Pet Semetary. The film still holds up very well. For my money it's as indispensable a classic as The Exorcist, Halloween, Deep Red, or Psycho. It stars Sissy Spacek, Nancy Allen, PJ Soles, Amy Irving, and John Travolta.
I was an 80s kid, growing up in a Southern Baptist home, and I was an outcast. I had a lot of restrictions at home and was called faggot at school so much, I think some people actually thought that was my name. Though much more extreme than my reality, I identified with Carrie, and watching her revenge was a cathartic experience. 
The best thing about revisiting the film though has always been Spacek's performance in the climax. The look on her face, her unblinking eyes, and the silent menace she exuded remains awe-inspiring and entertaining. Add to that DePalma's amazing direction, the technicolor nightmare, the use split screen- it's really innovative and nightmarish-something Dario Argento has done, spread out into full features like Suspiria and Inferno. DePalma's stylish approach to filmmaking in general made him, at least with his earlier work, the closest we have to an American Argento, though he's often been accused of being nothing more than a Hitchcock wanna-be, which is so rudely reductive that it should never be brought up again.
DePalma masterfully pulls off one of the great bait-and-switches in cinema in the opening credits with a long, slow motion tracking shot inside of the girl's locker room. It's all very steamy, giving the shot a dream-like quality, showing several girls in various states of undress, including some full frontal nudity, before focusing on Spacek, the camera lewdly crawling up and down her body in extreme close up. DePalma is clearly trying to turn us on with some blatant soft core, right before yanking the rug out from under us by shoving Carrie's menstrual blood in our faces. The subject of a woman's period can still, in 2016 even, make some men queasy at the thought. That discomfort that many male viewers feel is reflected in the principle's clear uneasiness discussing the issue with the gym teacher after Carrie is brutally harassed and ridiculed for not knowing that the blood is natural. Spacek goes into full freak out mode, running to the other girls for help. They just laugh at her. They've known for years about their periods and here is the school outcast acting like she's dying. Depalma turns titillation into something cringeworthy, he continues to screw with the viewer until the climax. Going from a high school drama, to a story of twisted child abuse, to delving into the paranormal, and then to a brutal and graphic scene of school violence.  
Not to be dismissive, but I still haven't watched the remake starring Chloe Grace-Moretz and Julianna Moore. The trailer looks great, but I don't feel like I'd have any great kinship to the more modern take. I literally grew up with DePalma's version and it has made a lasting impact on my life. I mean, just this morning I rewatched it with my wife, and I could still remember how that old living room smelled the night I first saw Carrie covered in pig's blood. It has remained a horror touchstone for me, that I'd rank up there with Night Of The Living Dead and Halloween as an influence in me becoming a horror author.   

Thursday, October 6, 2016


If you're a horror fan then you probably know the name Ghoulish Gary Pullin. An amazing artist who has created many outstanding eye-popping pieces for posters, magazines, records, and films and a 2009 Rondo Award winner. In my personal collection I have Waxwork Records' original soundtracks for RE-ANIMATOR and CREEPSHOW which Gary created original artwork for. They are drop dead gorgeous! Gary and his work will also be featured in the upcoming film TWENTY-FOUR BY THIRTY-SIX!
So for the month of Halloween I've asked a few people to share their top 3 horror films of all time, for any of you planning a scare-a-thon for Samhain and are pressed for what to watch. Well Gary was kind enough to share his top 3, so take it from a true monster kid...

Gary's first choice is one that I haven't seen and I feel like a chump, because everyone I know who has seen it talks about how scary it is. Starring George C Scott (Exorcist III, Dr Strangelove, Hardcore), THE CHANGELING is about a composer who tragically lost his family. He's consumed by grief and his friends convince him to get away for a while, so he rents a turn of the century house, but things get worse when he discovers the house is haunted by the ghost of a murdered child!
...yea, this is the year I watch THE CHANGELING!

Gary's next choice is one we have in common, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON! What a fantastic picture-what an incredible monster...It's rare to find a full body monster suit from the 1950s that looked so realistic and gave such an iconic performance (there were actually two people who played the creature-Ben Chapman for the above the water scenes and Ricou Browning for the underwater scenes). In the film, a paleontologist discovers a fossilized hand with webbed fingers, marking the link in evolution from sea to land creatures and leads an expedition into the Amazon to try and learn more. There they encounter the curious monster who becomes enraged after being attacked, but also infatuated with the sole female member of the crew, Kay (Julie Adams). Though it came out much later than the original Universal Classics, the Creature is still counted among their ranks and will be included in the new line of shared universe remakes. One of the gems of the monster cinema and an unimpeachable classic. 

And for his number 3 pick, Gary chose a modern classic that just hit Blu Ray back in August.
SESSION 9 landed with little fan fare back in 2001, flying under the radar. It is criminal this movie wasn't a hit! I saw it at a midnight showing and it was seriously one of the scariest films I've seen. Shot in Massachusetts, SESSION 9 is about a crew of contractors hired to go into an old insane asylum and clean out the asbestos so the place can be torn down. Are they alone in the place, or is someone not what they seem? No frigging joke, the last half hour is intense! No spoilers and no more details, if you haven't experienced this underrated jewel, you need to add this your Halloween viewing schedule.  

Thanks, Gary, for sharing your top 3 favorite horror films! Too learn more about Ghoulish Gary and purchase his art you can go HERE to check out his official site. And you can follow him at @ghoulishgary on Twitter and Instagram and he'll be a guest at MondoCon, October 22-23 and Days of the Dead: Chicago, November 18 - 20. And check out the official trailer for TWENTY-FOUR BY THIRTY-SIX below...


Wednesday, October 5, 2016


What do you know about The Ramones? I mean really? How deep does your knowledge go, how many albums do you own, what are your favorite deep cuts? I can't imagine anyone not, at the very least, owning a best of or the first couple of albums. To the uninitiated or casual fan, the assumption is that The Ramones made one great album and kept making it. Well...yes and no.
The Ramones didn't evolve from album to album as radically as The Clash, but they certainly improved as songwriters and musicians and the production value generally improved as well. They kept the songs fairly simple, straightforward, and short-occasionally adding synths or horns or strings, but at heart, it was always "1-2-3-4!" and go! They always took great 60s pop and played it with the speed and tone of a buzz saw, throwing in a few pretty ballads along the way. To me, there were albums that weren't as good as others, but there has been no Ramones studio album that I would call awful. At worst, an album like Pleasant Dreams was perhaps not as good as Subterranean Jungle. 
Other than being great innovators and inspiration for countless pop punk clones, what makes The Ramones specifically relevant Stranger With Friction? The Ramones recorded some great horror punk songs. Some even before the kings of horror punk, The Misfits. Here's a 6 song playlist of great horror moments and dark humor from 'da brudders'...

"Mama, where's your little daughter?
she's here, right here on the altar
You should never have opened that door
now you're never gonna see her no more
You don't know what I can do with this axe chop off your head
so you better relax"
"You Should Never Have Opened That Door", from Leave Home (also available as a demo on the 1st album) is about, well, you read the lyrics. That's it. A mom walks in on some sort of witchy ceremony and whoever has her daughter is going to chop off her head if she doesn't relax. Dark as hell stuff in a super catchy song. Think of The Misfits' "Last Caress", what a sick song, but you'll never get it out of your head!

"Oh, oh, oh
Sitting here with nothin' to do
Sitting here thinkin' only of you
But you'll never get out of there
She'll never get out of there.
Texas chain saw massacre
They took my baby away from me
But she'll never get out of there
She'll never get out of there
I don't care, wohoho
When I saw her on the corner
She told me told me told me told me
She wouldn't go far
Ooh, now I know I'm so much in love
'Cause she's the only girl that I'm ever thinking of"
"Chainsaw" kicks off with screeching sound of a bandsaw, whatever, before launching into such a "Ramones" kind of love song, full of longing trumped by apathy. It's such a funny little tribute to one of the most horrifying films ever made, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 

"Psycho therapy, psycho therapy, psycho therapy
That's what they want to give me
Psycho therapy, psycho therapy, psycho therapy
What they want to give me
I'm a teenage schizoid, the one your parent despise
Psycho therapy, now I got glowing eyes
I'm a teenage schizoid, pranks and muggings are fun
Psycho therapy, gonna kill someone
Psycho therapy, psycho therapy
Psycho therapy, psycho therapy, psycho therapy
Psycho therapy, psycho therapy, psycho therapy
I like takin' tuinal, it keeps me edgy and mean
I'm a teenage schizoid, I'm a teenage dope fiend
I'm a kid in the nuthouse, I'm a kid in the psycho zone
Psycho therapy, I'm gonna burglarize your home
Psycho therapy, psycho therapy, hey
Psycho therapy, psycho therapy, psycho therapy
Psycho therapy, psycho therapy, psycho therapy
Psycho therapy, psycho therapy, psycho therapy
Psycho therapy, psycho therapy, psycho therapy"
No, not specifically horrific, but considering how often mental illness plays into horror movies, "Psycho Therapy" fits right in.

"Everybody said so man you could see it on T.V.
They stood there ashamed with nowhere to go
Nobody wants them now the kids are alright
Every day is a holiday and pushin' people around
I'm making monsters for my friends
I'm making monsters for my friends
Someone caught one I could see so myself
I had to call 254 so they wouldn't blame me
We wanted to know how much trouble there was
When we asked our daddy he said it's just because
I'm making monsters for my friends
I'm making monsters for my friends
I don't wanna open a can of worms and
I don't want any Spagetti-Os
And I could always tell when
someone is holding a grudge
I'm making monsters for my friends
I'm making monsters for my friends
I'm making monsters for my friends
I'm making monsters for my friends"
I can barely make heads or tails of these lyrics, but it's got MONSTER in the chorus and so it goes on the list. Great song from The Ramones last album, Adios Amigos. 

"Hey, daddy-o
I don't want to go down to the basement
There's somethin' down there
I don't want to go
Hey, Romeo
There's somethin' down there
I don't want to go down to the basement"
Pretty typical of the debut album, short set of catchy lyrics repeated for about two minutes. It speaks directly to that kid in all of us who didn't want to go down into that dark, lonely basement with all the spiderwebs and shadows. Here's a cool fan made video to go along with it.

"Under the arc of a weather stain boards
Ancient goblins, and warlords
Come out of the ground, not making a sound
The smell of death is all around
And the night when the cold wind blows, no one cares, nobody knows
I don't want to be buried in a Pet Sematary
I don't want to live my life again
Follow Victor to the sacred place
This ain't a dream, I can't escape
Molars and fangs, the clicking of bones
Spirits moaning among the tombstones
And the night, when the moon is bright
Someone cries, something ain't right
I don't want to be buried in a Pet Sematary
I don't want to live my life again
The moon is full, the air is still
All of a sudden I feel a chill
Victor is grinning, flesh rotting away
Skeletons dance, I curse this day
And the night when the wolves cry out
Listen close and you can hear me shout
I don't want to be buried in a Pet Sematary
I don't want to live my life again
Oh no, oh no
I don't want to live my life again, oh no, oh oh
I don't want to live my life again, oh no, no, no"
There was a great synergy to The Ramones writing "Pet Sematary" for the film adaptation of the great Stephen King novel, since King references The Ramones in the book. This is certainly one of their top 20 songs of their career. 

If anything I hope you're inspired to dig deep into The Ramones' catalogue. There are several great tracks just as good as "Blitzkrieg Bop" or "I Wanna Be Sedated". And don't forget, if you're not in it, you're out of it!