More King on Post Mortem

Eli Roth’s sit-down with Stephen King (which I posted on yesterday) isn’t the only interview with the author to be released in the past week. In the latest episode of his podcast Post Mortem, Mick Garris talks with his old friend and frequent collaborator. The occasion for this interview is the 25th anniversary of The Stand, the grand-scale (“100 days of shooting, 95 scripted locations, 460 script pages, 6 states, 125 speaking roles, 1 year away from home,” Garris details in the intro) ABC miniseries adaptation of King’s epic novel.

I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone who hasn’t listened to the podcast yet, so in lieu of a review, I’ll just tease some of the highlights:

*King discusses the two disparate (real-world) events that sparked the idea for his novel, and also discusses what almost caused him to give up on the book mid-draft

*King explains why he finds screenwriting easier than fiction writing

*Garris and King reminisce about the famous actor and actress (a pair of veteran King players, at that) who have uncredited cameos in the miniseries

*King (who admits to writing a trial screenplay for Something Wicked This Way Comes when first practicing the craft) elaborates on why filmmaking is like an amusement park

*King speaks at length about his experience working on Maximum Overdrive, and reveals whether he has any desire to direct again

*The director and writer of the original miniseries consider the new 10-hour adaptation forthcoming on CBS All-Access, and King points out “why it’s a good time for The Stand to come back”

*Garris prompts King to identify his biggest literary influence

 

How to Go Wendigo

One of the most disappointing aspects of the remake of Pet Sematary (reviewed here) was the film’s failure to bring the Wendigo onscreen as a woods-haunting monstrosity. The movie barely even references the creature from Native American myth (which is so central to Stephen King’s novel). It also abandons the cannibalism element from the original (1989) film adaptation, with the transgressions of Louis Creed’s undead offspring (emphasis on “off”) here being confined to savage slashing with a scalpel. Going into the theater, I’d hoped that the new Pet Sematary would form the preeminent example of the horror genre’s use of the Wendigo myth. That distinction, though, still belongs to “Skin and Bones,” the signature episode from NBC’s 2008 anthology series Fear Itself.

Directed by Larry Fessenden (who drew on similar mythology in his films Wendigo and The Last Winter), “Skin and Bones” stars Doug Jones as Grady Edlund, a rancher who takes a turn for the perverse. Stranded in the mountains while on a hunting trip, Grady resorts to cannibalism, is possessed by a Wendigo as a result, and then returns home to terrorize his wife, children, and cuckolding brother. Jones is an absolute nightmare figure in his portrayal of the voracious Grady; sinisterly sinewy, he embodies the episode’s title. His frostbitten, black fingertips and ears are horrifying, and his inhuman yowls are chilling as a blast of a nor’easter. Jones’s character unnerves even when prostrate in bed with the covers pulled up to his neck, and epitomizes the jump scare when suddenly springing at his prey with supernatural speed. Grady does descend into Freddy Krueger-ish campiness when forcing his wife to serve up some human stew, but remains seriously scary with his strange combination of ungainliness and unnatural strength.

Jones has made a career out of portraying fantastic and horrific creatures in film (The Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water; The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth) and on TV (The Lead Gentleman on Buffy the Vampire Slayer; one of the Ancients in The Strain), but, for me, Grady Edlund is his meatiest and most memorable role. And while the Wendigo has figured into the plots of countless shows (from Haven and Sleepy Hollow to Hannibal and Supernatural) and films (such as the black-humor masterpiece Ravenous), “Skin and Bones” still provides the most terrifying vision of the entity’s supernatural invasion of the human frame.

 

 

Whisperers Shout Out

The wasteland is a red state, as The Walking Dead has donned its M.A.G.A. (Macabre and Gripping Again) hat.

The unevenness of the AMC series in recent years has been bemoaned and belabored by fans and critics (I’ve contributed my own pair of pennies to the discussion when posting here–and here). But with Angela Kang’s succession of Scott Gimple as showrunner, and the recent six-years’ time jump in the action following the send-off of protagonist Rick Grimes, the show seems to be making a conscious effort to reset itself, to refocus its creative energies. Apparently this involves a renewed emphasis on the horrific, as evidenced by the shocking murder of Jesus by a Whisperer in a fog-shrouded cemetery at the end of the season-splittling episode 9.8, “Evolution.”

Last night’s mid-season premiere, “Adaptation,” picks right up where the show left off, and instantly demonstrates the significance of the Whisperers to TWD‘s rebound. The introduction of this group revitalizes the human-zombie conflict that had grown understandably mundane. When it comes to fearmongering, familiarity breeds diminished returns; after so many seasons, the countless walker attacks lost a lot of their bite. The zombie horde ostensibly served as decayed clay pigeons, heroically obliterated by gun and sword and hatchet. With the advent of the Whisperers, however, the rules of close-up enemy engagement have been altered dramatically, since now a more calculating and dexterous nemesis can be lurking in the midst of the staggering cannibals. My anxiety was appreciably high last night as I watched Negan take swing at some walkers outside the Sanctuary, as I wondered if one of the gruesome opponents would suddenly show its true, living color (my concern for Negan’s safety also says a lot about the redemptive character arc this former Big Bad has been given).

For certain, the Whisperers’ subterfuge makes for a sinister modus operandi, but these figures also prove quite frightful in and of themselves. Their very appearance arrests the viewer, who can’t help but question the mindset of anyone willing to dress up in someone else’s flayed skin. As they stood looming in the tall grass in last night’s episode, the Whisperers also reminded me of another classic horror bogey–the killer scarecrow (in her first appearance, the Whisperer leader Alpha suggests less a latter-day Leatherface than a glorious product of the Grim Stitch Factory). Just as the raggedy straw-man staked as a cornfield sentinel unnervingly blurs the line between the animate and inanimate, the scarecrow-evoking Whisperers muddle the distinction between the living and the undead. From its inception, TWD has presented a clear duality, as the survivors of the zombie apocalypse faced threats from human and posthumous antagonists alike. Now, those two groups of foes can no longer be easily distinguished.

These people in ghouls’ clothing not only model a clever (if outre) survival strategy; their blending in with the grave masses also allows them to turn zombies to tactical advantage. Accordingly, the Whisperers can help redress one of the show’s shortcomings from a past season. I felt the Wolves’ run (in season 6) was cut way short; I wanted to see more of their morbid mousetraps, created by the recruiting of the resurrected dead as shock troops. The herd-infiltrating/-influencing Whisperers, though, promise to take the weaponizing of walkers to a whole other level.

I’ve never read the Kirkman comics, so I don’t know much about the story arc concerning this faux-putrified faction (and have been trying hard to avoid all plot spoilers when reading up on the AMC series of late). But needless to say, I will be attending closely to the Whisperers as TWD moves through the back half of season 9.

 

A Series of Wrong Turns: Fox’s The Passage

I hate to sound like the neighborhood crank, offering up yet another not-as-good-as-the-source-novel rant, but my shaking fist has been forced. Fox’s new series The Passage utterly disappoints with its egregious deviations from Justin Cronin’s trilogy-opening literary chiller.

The “Pilot” episode proves jarring from its opening moment: the use of young Amy Bellafonte’s voiceover (like the lazy, info-dumping dialogue the writers subsequently give to the characters) not only leads to some clunky conveyance of exposition, but also seems nonsensical (if Amy–whose extraordinary lifetime spans generations–is speaking in retrospect, why is she doing so in prepubescent voice?). Worse, such loquaciousness is completely out of character with the quiet, withdrawn figure we are introduced to in Cronin’s novel. The TV series transforms Amy into a sassy 10-year-old, and even more strikingly, changes her race from white to black. My immediate reaction to this latter switch is to question why it was made. Is it just change for change’s sake, an attempt (similar to the tricks played by The Walking Dead) to render the adaptation distinct from the original narrative? Is it a compensation for the deletion of Sister Lacey (a significant character in the book) from the series? What bothers me most here is that the change results in racial stereotyping: Amy’s story is set in motion when her “stupid crackhead” (Amy’s term of besmirchment) mother dies on the street of a drug overdose.

Not just Amy, but almost all of Cronin’s characters appear to have been dramatically altered. The novel’s vampiric villain, Giles Babcock, becomes fetching blonde “Shauna” Babcock. Cold-blooded government agent Clark Richards is given a romantic side (anyone who’s read the book was likely shocked to watch him fall into bed with [the now-female] Sykes), and is presented as a longtime friend of protagonist Brad Wolgast. Wolgast’s novelistic backstory, meanwhile, is flipped: here he’s revealed as the one who left home following the tragic death of his daughter Eva; his ex-wife Lila (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui, an actress whose painful attempts to emote consistently strike me as the expression of a constipation-sufferer) openly seeks to resume relations.

I also feel compelled to grouse about the the not-so-special makeup effects. The test subjects in Cronin’s novel undergo a radical transformation into monstrosity that fails to manifest (at least not yet) in the series. For all the experimenting doctors’ don’t-call-them-vampires rhetoric, the show appears content to employ standard bloodsucker imagery. Pointy fangs, gleaming eyes: these nemeses look like castoffs from 1979’s Salem’s Lot adaptation.

Ironically, Cronin’s Passage does trace straight back to the work of Stephen King (The Stand in particular). But such intertextual connection (though perhaps to no surprise at this point) is stupefyingly simplified by the TV series. Exhibit A (as in Aargh!): the superpowers of Carrie-like telekinesis that Amy now apparently possesses.

Judging from the pilot and previews of upcoming episodes, The Passage reduces the marvelous (and elaborate) storytelling of Cronin’s post-apocalyptic epic to televisual shorthand. The unabashed bastardization on display thus far portends a series ultimately more absurd than absorbing.

 

Forgotten by History

One last post on Eli Roth’s History of Horror

Over the course of seven episodes, the documentary series covered an impressive array of films and television shows. Inevitably, though, there were omissions, either due to time constraints or oversights. Here is my list of the seven most glaring examples:

The Simpsons: Treehouse of HorrorAn annual Halloween institution for nearly three decades (one that has invoked/reworked countless horror classics) surely could have been given at least a passing nod.

Tim Burton’s oeuvreThe auteur of the Gothic and the macabre was basically MIA. Burton’s grimmer and gorier efforts (Sleepy HollowSweeney Todd) would have been perfect fare to savor.

Dark ShadowsA whole episode devoted to vampires, and not one mention of Barnabas Collins, who brought bloodsucking to the afternoon soap opera and captivated a slew of viewers on a daily basis?

It FollowsThe show’s talking heads would have had plenty to expound upon with this haunting and subtext-heavy sexual horror film.

The WitchPowerful, if polarizing, Robert Eggers’s frightening foray into the bedeviled New England wilderness would have been right at home in the “Demons Inside” episode (and could have culminated an episode devoted to the witch figure).

The Twilight ZoneThis eerie (and enduringly popular) series hosted by Rod Serling featured some of the scariest scenes ever to play on the small screen (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”: enough said), but you wouldn’t know it from watching Eli Roth’s History of Horror.

Alien. The titular predator is an iconic monster, and certain (chest-bursting) images from the film series have been seared into the viewing audience’s psyches. If sci-fi horror such as John Carpenter’s The Thing could be covered, then Alien should not have been foreign to the AMC program.

 

The preceding list is presented less as a critique than as a simple expression of surprise. A positive spin could be given in this sense: however inclusive Eli Roth’s History of Horror might have been, it wasn’t exhaustive (i.e. there’s room for future episodes!). Overall, I found the series finely edited and highly enjoyable to watch. The analysts added terrific insights and displayed an obvious love for the horror genre (which, time and again, was shown to have deeper significance and not merely form the pop cultural equivalent of junk food, filling the bovine masses with empty calories). Most importantly, the series got me excited to go and re-watch the classic films and TV shows covered. This illuminating history has pointed me toward a future of dark delights.

 

Best Lessons: Eli Roth’s History of Horror (Episodes 6-7)

Eli Roth’s History of Horror doesn’t quite provide the comprehensive overview that its title suggests, but the documentary series does offer fine analysis of landmark films within different horror subgenres, as well as compelling contextualization of such films in their cultural moment. The talking heads on the show make for a consistently fascinating listen. Gathered here are my selections of the best insights provided by the show’s various genre luminaries and film scholars.

 

Episode 6: Vampires

Stephen King: I grew up reading Dracula and reading about the stink of the grave, the graveyard earth that the vampire was in, with the worms crawling in it, about his fetid breath. It was supposed to be ugly and nasty.

Quentin Tarantino: One of the reasons that Dracula has persisted so long, as opposed to the Frankenstein Monster, as opposed to the Wolf Man or the Mummy, was he was a character. He was a genuine character.

David J. Skal: The makers of Nosferatu intended that vampire to represent war itself. War as a cosmic vampire that had drained the blood out of Europe.

John Edgar Browning: [In Bram Stoker’s DraculaWe see this extremely sympathetic Dracula, because he misses his wife, who was killed, and then sees sort of her reincarnation in this modern-day girl. That completely revolutionized Dracula performances. It changed the filmic Dracula mythos. And, in fact, you could argue that we’re still riding the wave from that film even today.

Eli Roth: The vampires Lestat, Louis, and Claudia [in Interview with the Vampireform a family of outsiders headed by two fathers. The arrangement suggested gay marriage, years before that was accepted by mainstream society.

John Landis: When the AIDS crisis hit, there was suddenly this renaissance of vampire movies. Vampires are metaphors, clearly, for sex and death.

Joe Hill: For me, the part of the vampire legend that has always remained powerful is the idea that they have to be invited in. So many times in people’s lives, you know, whatever that thing is that’s draining them of their life and vitality, so often they invited it in. If it’s drugs, if it’s alcohol, if it’s someone who’s just abusive, you know, who’s cruel to you. A lot of vampire stories are about inviting in something that you think will bring you bliss and that destroys you instead.

Ryan Turek: David Slade’s 30 Days of Nightwhich was written by Steve Niles and based on the graphic novel–that was the complete antithesis of what Twilight represented. You had vampires returning to their feral form, almost Nosferatu-like but something completely different.

Bryan Fuller: One of the most beautiful things about the horror genre is that the stakes are implicitly high, because you’re dealing with life and death. and that gives horror a certain operatic quality to it where there is no choice but to survive and thrive or be one of the body count.

Eli Roth: Ultimately, the story of the vampire is the story of our tenuous grip on life. The bite of the vampire symbolizes the hundreds of things that could kill us at any times, no matter how healthy or safe we think we are.

 

Episode 7: Ghost Stories

Eli Roth: Ghost movies have been with us since the dawn of cinema. The first horror film, La Manior du Diable from 1896, was a ghost story. But until the 1980’s, spirits were rarely seen onscreen, and if they were, they were rarely convincing.

Joe Hill: Poltergeist is a movie about the tremendous guilt we feel about leaving our children in front of the TV, letting the TV be the babysitter. We know it’s wrong; we do it anyway.

Leigh Whannell: Death is the one inevitable thing. It’s coming for all of us. There’s a human need to answer that question of life after death, and I think ghost films feed into that.

Bryan Fuller: And [The Hauntingis one of the most terrifying films because of Wise’s instinct to focus on the faces of those being terrified, because that is what you’re relating to, and that is what is informing your emotion, not the ghosts.

Stephen King: I can enjoy [Stanley Kubrick’s The Shiningon the same level that you can enjoy a beautifully restored Cadillac without a motor in it. You know? My rap about it is that there’s no character arc. In the book, Jack Torrance goes from a nice guy who’s trying to get better for his family and for himself. And I felt Jack Nicholson played Jack Torrance as if he was crazy from the start.

Eli Roth: Supernatural thriller. That was what they called The Sixth SenseAnd there were orders no to call it a horror film. One of the scariest, most brilliant films ever made, and they said, “Don’t call it a horror movie.” It was like horror was a dirty word.

Tony Timpone: The Changeling is, not only is it a horror movie, it’s also a murder mystery. We want to know what happened to this little boy. And it introduces sort of an element we’ve seen in a lot of ghost story movies since then, where the ghosts are reaching out to us to solve a mystery to help put their souls at rest. And it’s kind of a theme we’ve seen in the films of Guillermo del Toro, where we really feel the pain of the ghost.

John Landis: Ghosts mean different things in different religions and different cultures. Some ghosts are benevolent, some ghosts are malicious, but there’s always that struggle. Because what–when someone dies, where do they go? […] Because they are just here, and then they’re not here. And that’s why we create rituals, funerals, memorial services, to help us deal with the grief. And part of the grief is, where the hell did they go? Movies help you. They’re therapeutic. They deal with “where did they go?”.

 

 

Best Lessons: Eli Roth’s History of Horror (Episodes 4-5)

Eli Roth’s History of Horror doesn’t quite provide the comprehensive overview that its title suggests, but the documentary series does offer fine analysis of landmark films within different horror subgenres, as well as compelling contextualization of such films in their cultural moment. The talking heads on the show make for a consistently fascinating listen. Gathered here are my selections of the best insights provided by the show’s various genre luminaries and film scholars.

 

Episode 4: The Demons Inside

Eli Roth: Though our fears are ancient, films about demonic possession are a relatively recent phenomenon. Hollywood’s Motion Picture Production Code set strict moral guidelines on content from the early 1930’s to the late 1960’s. Outside of the Swedish film Haxan from 1922, demonic possessions rarely appear on screen until 1973, the year of The Exorcist.

Amanda Reyes: [Linda Blair’s] transformation from this very sweet, very typical young girl, into a monster, I think comments on this anxiety that the young people of the country were moving away from the conservative norms of society.

Alex Winter: There’s no place to hide–your religion, your relationship to God. No, none of that. There’s no safe haven anywhere. Even the afterlife isn’t safe. I mean, you’re gonna get there and be in hell like poor Father Damien. I mean, it’s this idea that there’s literally no escape, not even if you’re dead. That is, you know, to me the idea of a pure horror movie.

Oren Peli [discussing Paranormal Activity]: There’s something about the vulnerability that you have while you’re asleep, and which I think is something very kind of ingrained in human nature from the days we were cavemen and you don’t know if a tiger is gonna come into your cave and kill you while your asleep.

Karyn Kusama: The notion of the female as monstrous in itself has been a central tenet of horror, and that’s what remains profoundly meaningful to me about horror, is it’s one of the few genres that’s had the guts to say, as a culture we are terrified of women and girls.

Bryan Fuller: What is fascinating about the possession genre of horror films is your loved one is not who you assumed they were. That’s the most terrifying thing, and we saw that to wonderful effect in both of the Evil Dead films.

Mary Harron: One of things I really love about horror and the nightmares it touches on is the idea of security and a stable, normal place that turns out to be a place of danger, or a person who seems to be a friendly person. And, of course, one of the greatest things in Rosemary’s Baby is the [Satan-worshiping] neighbors.

Tananarive Due: The minute Chris is sent into the Sunken Place, I realized this movie [Get Out] was not just going to be scary and not just going to be interesting, but was also going to be important. Because he created a metaphor that now gives so many of us language to explain what a state of suppression looks like and feels like.

Eli Roth: And that’s what genre movies do at their best, especially great horror movies. It gives you a way to discuss the undiscussable. It gives you a context to talk about subjects that are just awful and painful for everyone. But you can put it in the context of a scary movie, whether it’s a zombie movie, whether it’s a Get Out movie, and it’s like you’re suddenly allowed to talk about it.

 

Episode 5: Killer Creatures

Jason Middleton: Beverly’s sexual abuse by her father is shown to be very much connected, we know, with the external threats embodied by ItBut it also reminds us the most unimaginable, horrific things really do happen. Fears are never just imaginary.

Joe Dante: I grew up on the James Whale films, and Whale’s pictures were always mordantly comic, and he was not afraid to mix tones. The Invisible Man, who is certifiably crazy, does a lot of funny things, but then in the middle of doing something funny he’ll kill somebody. Then all of a sudden your laugh catches in your throat. That’s always fascinated me, that dichotomy. 

Michael Dougherty: I think it’s good for kids to watch scary movies. It makes you learn how to process fear on a physical and mental level. I think your kid will probably be more messed up if you don’t show them anything scary, because they won’t be prepared for the real world, which is actually terrifying.

Victor LaValle: The horror of sort of truism was that things can be real good and scary until you see the monster, and Rob Bottin, the special effects guy [for The Thing] said, “Well, what if we show them the monster constantly?” But the trick is that the monster is a different monster every time. I mean, that’s just brilliantly leaning into the problem.

Tippi Hedren: I think Alfred Hitchcock was born to scare people. To make them uneasy, frighten them severely–and also really make them think. I think he relished that. Did he take it too far in his private life? probably. Probably. He had his own motion picture going on inside.

Dee Wallace: In a horror film, there’s a lot–if you’re doing it right–there’s a lot of emotional work. Your body does not know you are acting,. Your brain does not know you are acting. It goes through every chemical change that you would go through in fight-or-flight. So you can imagine doing a movie like Cujosix to eight weeks of fight-or-flight, every minute.

Greg Nicotero: That scene on the beach [in Jaws] is pure Hitchcock. You look at the tricks that Spielberg used in that scene–he used every trick in the book to just really make sure that you saw every single thing that was happening, but you could do nothing about it.

Doug Jones: I think horror films are very good at giving a voice to the voiceless and empowering the weak. We all have some kind of monster or demon that plagues us in some way, but to realize, “With the right dagger, I can kill that demon, so I’m gonna.” Right? That’s what a horror film teaches me.

Eli Roth: Monsters embody our deepest fears, the fears we can’t–or won’t–face, the primal fears we need to repress to stay sane. Fears of weakness and vulnerability. Fears of being shunned by society. Fears of giving in to our worst impulses. When the monster is defeated, we win a small victory, over the terror of being human.

 

Best Lessons: Eli Roth’s History of Horror (Episodes 1-3)

Eli Roth’s History of Horror doesn’t quite provide the comprehensive overview that its title suggests, but the documentary series does offer fine analysis of landmark films within different horror subgenres, as well as compelling contextualization of such films in their cultural moment. The talking heads on the show make for a consistently fascinating listen. Gathered here are my selections of the best insights provided by the show’s various genre luminaries and film scholars.

 

Episode 1: Zombies

Stephen KingWe’re getting our chance to exercise our most anti-social emotions. You know, that mob impulse that’s like, “Yeah, kill them all and let God sort them out.”

Jason Middleton: We don’t want zombies to come and destroy all our friends and families and institutions, but on some level, maybe we do. Like, on some level it provides us a chance to dismantle everything and possibly start over.

Elijah Wood: What are humans like when faced with the end of humanity? What are they like when they’re faced with very few choices in regards to how to survive? That’s the horror of zombie movies. It’s the wrong impulses that come out of people that are far more terrifying than the walking dead.

Tananarive Due: Let’s say you’re a white viewer in the late 1960’s who has a few prejudices, say, and is a little bit worried that the world is ending because of all of the racial legislation of the 60’s–the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act–and here’s this zombie film [Night of the Living Deadwhere the dead are coming back to life and a black man is in charge. I will contend that that might have been as frightening to some viewers as the child eating her mother in the basement.

Edgar Wright: When we thought up Shaun of the Dead, one of the impulses for it was because there hadn’t been a zombie film for like fifteen years. We always had this theory that  […] John Landis’s video for [Michael Jackson’s] “Thriller” had sort of killed off zombies for the second half of the 80’s and the early 90’s.

Eli Roth: This [George Romero’s Dawn of the Deadwas the first depiction of a full-scale zombie apocalypse, a nightmare vision of social collapse that became the template for virtually every end of the world story we see today.

Leonard Maltin: 28 Days Later is a perfect horror movie because it’s based on a premise you can completely believe. I don’t know what it’s like to be bitten by a vampire. I don’t know what it’s like to be threatened by a werewolf. But I can imagine what it’s like to have a plague spread like wildfire because it’s just too close to the headlines of today’s news. It could happen.

Max Brooks: Zombies that are slow are infinitely more terrifying. It’s the difference between getting shot and getting cancer. You get killed by, say, a fast zombie in the World War Z movie or 28 Days Later, You’re dead before you know it. Happens too fast. But the slow zombie, the zombie that gives you time to think, allows you to visualize your own death, and that is one of the darker elements of the human mind.

Stuart Gordon: My father passed away when I was fourteen years old, and I think that was the hook for me. People always say, “if you could bring anybody back to life, who would it be?” in my case, it’s a no-brainer. It would be my father. When you look at most horror movies, I think, they’re about an impossible dream.

John Landis: Zombies are representative of Alzheimer’s, a just terrifying disease. And zombies are representative of cancer. to me what’s happened to the zombie is now they’re representatives of anarchy and the collapse of government, the collapse of order.

 

Episode 2: Slashers, Part 1

Mick Garris: So much of horror is about mood, atmosphere, and cinematic style. John Carpenter using the wide screen and the Panaglide camera, starting with Halloweenit’s something that makes the film that much more effective.

David J Skal: Starting with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960, we started seeing a new approach to horror. It was the horror that didn’t come out of some grotesque radioactive anomaly, but it could be lurking next door. A nice young man like Norman Bates could be the new Frankenstein, the new Dracula.

Rob Zombie: Out of every movie that we’ve talked about, [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is] the one that defined me. Like, that’s everything I ever wanted in a movie, and everything I ever wanted to do in movies. It was just disgusting and nasty, and that redneck thing. That movie changed the way I thought about movies. Instantly.

Kane Hodder: There’s a lot more to playing a character like Jason than throwing a mask on and, you know, walking around threateningly, because two of the major tools an actor uses are their facial expressions and their voices. So now, you take away both of those by making him silent and putting a mask on him. So I was always conscious of Jason never looking awkward or off-balance or weak. I would never look down to see where I was walking, because I thought that weakened the character.

Joe Hill: I’ve always thought that the slasher films of the 1980’s didn’t really work as horror fiction, but they worked pretty well as slapstick comedies. And the reason for that is, you know, the characters are never allowed to be anything except one-dimensional types. You’ve got a gang of teenagers. You’ve got the jock. You’ve got the stoner. You’ve got the slut. You’ve got the virgin. You never care about them, you never fall in love with them, so when the serial killer starts knocking them off one by one, you laugh instead of recoil in horror, because he’s actually more of a personality than they are.

Amanda Reyes: I don’t feel like the film [Maniac] is misogynistic at all. As a matter of fact, I feel, as a woman, it really represents a realism to me. It’s like a cathartic experience in a way, because women live in that sort of world every day, where we have to be hyper-aware of who’s around us and what could happen.

Eli Roth: But don’t you find that in a really effective horror movie, blood stains the critics’ eyes? Like, once you get blood in your eyes, you can’t wash it out. They can’t see anything else other than the kill, and they also feel like if they like the movie, that they’re endorsing that for real, or that kind of violence. So most often, those reviewers just become a soapbox to be like, “Look, I’m a good person, I’m a good person, I don’t like this sort of thing,” but the truth is we love it. It’s like it’s–it’s like the enjoying fantasy, enjoying a scary story. It’s no different than Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Leigh Whannell: To me, horror is always about violating the sacred. Take a child, something that we look at and coo over and dote on, and make them the most evil —- out there. And a child’s toy is sacred, too. These are things we grow up with, and [in Child’s Play] you basically cast horror’s black shadow over all this sacred, righteous stuff.

 

Episode 3: Slashers, Part 2

Robert Englund: But when I got the part [of Freddy Krueger] I didn’t know what I was going to do. And the makeup sessions informed a lot of what I did. They were dabbing at me with a crusty brush and basting me like a turkey with Vaseline so I picked up the light better. and in comes Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp, arguably the two most attractive young people in the world at that moment, and it got me angry and envious of their youth and their beauty and the fact that these two kids had their whole careers ahead of them. And I went, “Wait a minute, I can use that.”

Victor LaValle: If you were to explain, “It’s about this black dude who was murdered for having sex with a white lady, and then he comes back and hunts the white lady and lots of other people, too,” you’d be like, “Nah, I don’t think we’re gonna make that movie.” You know what I mean? But somehow, through his level of magnetism and charm, [Tony Todd] manages to make Candyman someone–I don’t know if they love him, but who they love to fear.

Joe Hill: I think that mixture of terror and empathy is very powerful. Every great work of horror fiction is an exercise in extreme empathy. It’s about falling in love with characters and then staying with them as they endure the worst.

Kevin Williamson: My whole goal when writing Scream was, I wanted a horror movie to sort of live and breathe in a time where the other horror movies existed.

Bryan Fuller: The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect film. It kind of shirked the in-your-face occasionally vulgarities of the horror genre and painted them with a much finer brush that made it a story that was about being human, as opposed to a story that was about the horrors of the world.

Greg Nicotero: It’s also coming to grips with our own mortality. Maybe there’s some weird catharsis of, like, “Okay, well, thank God my death could never be nearly as bad as what I just saw.”

Eli Roth: People always ask me, “How do you make a horror film scary?” And I think the only common thread that I’ve found is when the filmmaker, the director, is truly terrified of the subject matter.

Max Brooks: One of the issues with the Saw movies–and you can take it however you want–is the fact that we invented a whole new term, “torture porn.” But we invented it at the very same time America, as a nation, was under world indictment, for actually torturing people.

Aaron Michael Kerner: One of the things about torture porn is that we are no longer afraid of bogeymen. Michael and Jason and those characters lost a certain currency. And what really strikes fear, in the United States in a post-9/11 moment, is other people. Other people are frightening. The Hostel franchise speaks truth to power and presents Americans in the way that the world perceives us.

Tony Timpone: The real world is much scarier than anything that Eli Roth or Stephen King could come up with. It’s a really disturbing, sick, violent world we live in. Horror films reflect that. And horror films are a way of people coming to terms with the violence in society, trying to deal with it, and trying, you know, to escape it in a lot of ways.

Walker Bait and Switch

Sunday night’s Rick Grimes finale encapsulated everything that is great–and frustrating–about The Walking Dead.

(Spoilers below)

The episode, “What Comes After,” continues the strong bounce-back the series has demonstrated this season. There’s an emphasis on moral dilemma, as evidenced by vigilante Maggie’s face off with Michonne and ensuing confrontation with Negan. There are clever call backs, all the way back to the show’s very first episode in 2010 (the hospital scene; Rick and Shane conversing in the police cruiser). There is payoff on long-teased elements, as that mysterious helicopter finally touches down on the plot line. There’s sublime imagery: the Boschean vision of a field of infinite corpses in huddled sprawl. Most of all, there’s the grandeur of Rick Grimes, who heroically lures a pair of zombie herds away from the settlements and onto the still-under-construction bridge, which he then destroys in a fiery act of self-sacrifice.

If only the episode had stopped there.

Instead, it proceeded to stifle the audience’s catharsis. Turns out, Rick didn’t die in the explosion, but washed ashore somewhere downstream, where he’s discovered by Jadis and whisked away by the helicopter people. I am okay with the decision not to definitively kill off Rick, and could even live with some lingering open-endedness (might he return to the series at some future point?). But no sooner did the episode finish airing than the show’s brass released word that Andrew Lincoln would be reprising his Rick Grimes character in a trilogy of TWD movies on AMC. Surprise! the tricksy producers proclaim, Rick’s ballyhooed send-off is actually into a spin-off. This takes the infamous dumpster fake-out with Glenn to a whole other level. The timing of the breaking news felt both off and off-putting: I was left with a bitter sense of emotional manipulation, of deceptive hype (that this would be the last we’d see of Rick) used to spike ratings.

This latest swerve points to the fundamental problem:The Walking Dead has gotten too big for its own good, and is too concerned with expanding its brand (seemingly to the point of media saturation). Once again it has lost sight of its own basic appeal to viewers, who are eager to invest in a core cast of characters and their week-by-week struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic world.

The Walking Dead botched the opportunity for an unforgettable TV moment by reducing Rick Grimes’s fate to a Gimple gimmick.

 

Still Fine at XXIX

 

After twenty-nine years, the “Treehouse of Horror” shows no signs of falling into disrepair.

Kudos to The Simpsons for the show’s Cthulhu-themed episode opener; given the tendency for “Treehouse” to draw most of its raw material from film and TV, it was refreshing to see the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft invoked. The spoof of Lovecraft’s mutant characters goes swimmingly, including one fishy denizen of Fogburytown (a Simpsons stand-in for Innsmouth) sporting a “Wetsox” jersey. This intro (whose Homer vs. Cthulhu oyster-eating contest is especially precious, considering that Lovecraft’s nightmare creations can be traced back to the author’s aversion to seafood) also features my favorite line: told that he is about to sacrificed to an evil god from the ocean’s depths, Homer replies, “Spongebob?”

The first of the episode’s trio of segments, “Intrusion of the Pod-y Snatchers,” is probably the least effective. The satire (“Mapple”/”Steve Mobs”/[I-]pod[-obsessed] people) tends to be a bit facile. Nevertheless, the segment offers some wonderfully witty moments, such as when Lisa questions why aliens never use contractions when addressing earthlings, or when the plant version of pothead Otto is configured as a marijuana leaf.

Pre-judging by its title, “Multiplisaty” was the segment I feared I would least enjoy. I envisioned some lame lampoon of a Michael Keaton movie, but imagine my surprise when I realized Split was the true source here of Lisa’s Beast-ly insanity (the original Saw is also subjected to some clever irreverence). The segment presents some funny kills of Milhouse and Nelson (Groundskeeper Willie also receives his requisite axing) amidst its tongue-in-cheek commentary on the maddening behavior of males.

The final segment, “Geriatric Park,” proves the most adult-oriented; it’s imbued with gore and closes on a note of virtuoso innuendo (pterodactyl Agnes’s quip, “Virgin Air I’m not!”). Extended as it might be, the riff on Jurrasic Park/-World never grows tiresome. For me, the gag where the dentures fall out of drooling dinosaur Abe’s mouth makes “Geriatric Park” worth the price of admission.

I’m forty-six now, and it’s occurred to me that The Simpsons‘ Halloween episode has been an annual staple of my adult life. Nearly three decades later, the macabre comedy of “Treehouse of Horror” still has the ability to reduce me to a gleefully-giggling child.