Comparing Countdowns

In a previous post, I covered Shudder’s The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time. Now that the Halloween-season-spanning, eight-episode series is complete, let’s compare its rankings to those in the similar countdown specials that preceded it on the Bravo channel.

Abbreviations:
B100= Bravo’s The 100 Scariest Movie Moments [2004]
B30= Bravo’s 30 Even Scarier Movie Moments [2006]
B13= Bravo’s 13 Scarier Movie Moments [2009] 

 

The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time

Episode 1
101. It Follows (2014)
100. The Orphanage (2007)
99. ‘Salem’s Lot (1979)
98. Horror of Dracula (1958)
97. Black Sabbath (1963)
96. Pulse (2001)
95. The Strangers (2008) [B13: #13] 
94. The Wolf-Man (1941) [B100: #62] 
93. Cat People (1942) [B100: #97] 
92. The Birds (1963) [B100: #96] 
91. Mulholland Drive (2001)
90. Child’s Play (1988) [B100: #93] 
89. An American Werewolf in London (1981) [B100: #42] 

Episode 2
88. Us (2019)
87. The Witch (2015)
86. Zombi 2 (1979) [B100: #98] 
85. The Changeling (1980) [B100: #54] 
84. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) [B100: #52] 
83. The Brood (1979) [B100: #78] 
82. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
81. Demons (1985) [B100: #53] 
80. Doctor Sleep (2019)
79. Candyman (1992) [B100: #75] 
78. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
77. The Evil Dead (1981) [B100: #76] 
76. Dawn of the Dead (2004) [B30: #13] 

Episode 3
75. Annihilation (2018)
74. Cujo (1983) [B100: #58] 
73. The Fly (1986) [B100: #33] 
72. The Wicker Man (1973) [B100: #45] 
71. Nosferatu (1922) [B100: #47]
70. The Night House (2020)
69. Aliens (1986) [B100: #35] 
68. The Babadook (2014)
67. The Last House on the Left (1972) [B100: #50] 
66. Terrified [Aterrados] (2017)
65. Friday the 13th (1980) [B100: #31] 
64. Dawn of the Dead (1978) [B100: #39] 
63. Peeping Tom (1960) [B100: #38] 

Episode 4
62. A Quiet Place (2018)
61.The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
60. Phantasm (1979) [B100: #25] 
59. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
58. When a Stranger Calls (1979) [B100: #28] 
57. Black Christmas (1974) [B100: #87]
56. Jacob’s Ladder (1990) [B100: #21] 
55. Threads (1984)
54. The Howling (1981) [B100: #81]
53. Gerald’s Game (2017)
52. Misery (1990) [B100: #12] 
51. Frankenstein (1931) [B100: #27] 
50. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) [B100: #17] 

Episode 5
49. A Bay of Blood (1971)
48. The Conjuring (2013)
47. Get Out (2017)
46. Twin Peaks: Part 8 (2017)
45. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
44. Rosemary’s Babysitter (1968) [B100: #23] 
43. Inside (2007)
42. Se7en (1995) [B100: #26] 
41. Zodiac (2007) [B13: #4] 
40. 28 Days Later (2002) [B100: #100] 
39. 30 Days of Night (2007)
38. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) [B100: #7]
37. Suspiria (1977) [B100: #24] 

Episode 6
36. The Blair Witch Project (1999) [B100: #30]
35. Paranormal Activity (2007)
34. The Sixth Sense (1999) [B100: #71]
33. Let the Right One In (2008)
32. The Invisible Man (2020)
31. Wait Until Dark (1967) [B100: #10] 
30. Don’t Breathe (2016)
29. Hostel (2005) [B30: #1] 
28. Lake Mungo (2008)
27. The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
26. It: Chapter One (2017)
25. I Saw the Devil (2010)
24. Hellraiser (1987) [B100: #19]

Episode 7
23. The Descent (2005) [B13: #1] 
22. Saw (2004) [B30: #3] 
21. Scanners (1981) [B30: #14]
20. [REC] (2007)
19. Carrie (1976) [B100: #8] 
18. The Omen (1976) [B100: #16]
17. Night of the Living Dead (1968) [B100: #9]
16. The Exorcist III (1990)
15. Final Destination (2000)
14. Jaws (1975) [B100: #1]
13. Scream (1996) [B100: #13]
12. Halloween (1978) [B100: #14]
11. Alien (1979) [B100: #2] 

Episode 8
10. Ringu (1995)
9. Train to Busan (2016)
8. Sinister (2012)
7. The Exorcist (1973) [B100: #3]
6. The Shining (1980) [B100: #6]
5. Psycho (1960) [B100: #4]
4. Audition (1999) [B100: #11]
3. Hereditary (2018)
2. The Thing (1982) [B100: #48] 
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) [B100: #5]

 

Some Thoughts:

*This 2022 list makes a conscious effort to be more culturally inclusive; a quarter of the list is comprised of non-North-American films.

*Freaks is the highest-ranked film from the B100 list (#15) to not make the Shudder list. The Haunting (B100: #19) is perhaps the most surprising omission, though (here, the film  is supplanted by the Netflix series).

*The Thing [B100: #48] makes the largest jump from the original Bravo list–a testament to how the film’s reputation has continued to grow over the years.

*The Silence of the Lambs is the Top 10 film from the original Bravo list (#7) to have the biggest drop here. It’s somewhat surprising, too, that the #1 film from the original Bravo list, Jaws, falls all the way to #14 here.

*Dawn of the Dead is the only film listed twice here–the 1978 original and the 2004 remake.

*Frankenstein and The Wolf-Man make this list but their Universal Monster cohort Dracula doesn’t. The top-ranked Universal Monster film on the list: the 2020 remake of The Invisible Man.

*The Shining is the top-ranked Stephen King film adaptation on both this list and the original Bravo list. Despite King’s vocal denunciations of the film, Stanley Kubrick clearly struck a horrifying chord with audiences.

*Twenty-two of the entries here were released after 2009, and so were not even available for consideration for any of the Bravo lists. The top-ranked film here that was eligible but didn’t make the Bravo lists was Ringu (but B100 did rank the American remake of the film at #20).

 

The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time was a wonderful treat this Halloween season. The series brimmed with stunning clips and astute commentary. Mike Flanagan’s closing remarks are so good, I have to quote them in full here:

One of the neat things about the genre is that, yes, we love to be startled, and yes, we love to be frightened, and sometimes we love to root for the killers. We can pour all of our kind of base instincts into sympathizing with the slasher. It lets us do so many different things. It’s cathartic in so many different ways. But it also, in all of its expressions, is just an invitation. For us to be a little bit braver in processing what we go through as people, whether that’s dealing with loss, trauma, violent fantasies, universal fears, fear of the unknown, fear of death itself, or just fear of what we are capable of doing to each other. All of those expressions of the genre all invite us to try to be honest about that, and to try to be a little bit courageous. Just brave enough to make it through the scene, just brave enough to make it through the movie, just brave enough to make it through the episode. And we collectively get that little bit braver.

 

Altogether Ooky October: The Addams Family and Halloween

Yes, I was really disappointed to learn that Tim Burton’s new Netflix series Wednesday wouldn’t be premiering until after Halloween season (three more grueling weeks to wait!). But that just sent me back to view earlier incarnations of the Addams Family, and it turns out that the creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky household has a rich history of Halloween association.

The Halloween connection traces back to the inception of the Addams Family. Charles Addams’s vintage New Yorker cartoons more commonly skewer the Yuletide holiday, but there is one signature piece in which the Addamses descend en masse on the wilds of Central Park in late October (with Uncle Fester even toting a jack-o’-lantern under his arm).

 

As a 1960’s sitcom, The Addams Family featured two separate Halloween episodes. In episode 1.7, “Halloween with the Addams Family,” a pair of robbers on the run (Don Rickles and Skip Homeier) attempt to hide out at the Addams home and get caught up in the family’s crazy celebration of its “favorite holiday” (the festivities include “bobbing for the crab”). And long before The Nightmare Before Christmas, the Addamses gather for a recitation of a special holiday-splicing poem: “It was Halloween evening, and through the abode / Not a creature was stirring, not even a toad. / Jack-o’-lanterns are hung on the gallows with care / To guide sister witch as she flies through the air…”

 

“Halloween–Addams Style” (2.7) means bite-size salamander sandwiches prepared via guillotine, and porcupine taffy crafted by Grandmama. After an insensitive neighbor spoils the trick-or-treating Wednesday’s holiday joy by claiming that witches don’t exist, a séance is conducted to contact the Addams ancestor Aunt Singe (who was burnt at the stake in Salem). Comedic confusion ensues when a witch-costumed neighbor out on a Halloween scavenger hunt shows up at the Addams mansion.

 

The sitcom’s original cast returned in living color for the 1977 TV movie Halloween with the New Addams Family (a film that features extensive scenes of an Addams-hosted costume party at which various bits of hilarity occur). Halloween is clearly Christmas for the Addams Family, as is evident from the legend of Cousin Shy, a jolly spirit who “carves a smile on a specially hidden pumpkin, and leaves beautiful gifts at the feet of the Halloween scarecrow.” As if all this wasn’t festive enough, the closing scene presents the Addamses in candlelit procession, singing a macabre carol: “Scarecrows and blackbirds are always together. Spiders spin cobwebs in overcast weather. Cauldrons are brewing and banshees are doing a weird and ghastly routine, to wish you a merry, creepy Halloween.”

 

The 1991 cinematic adaptation The Addams Family concludes–you guessed it–on Halloween night. Gomez carves a cyclopean jack-o’-lantern; Pugsley dresses as his Uncle Fester, and Wednesday (in her everyday clothes) as a “homicidal maniac.” Then the Addamses head outside for a rousing game of Wake the Dead, which involves digging up departed relatives from the family graveyard.

 

For Halloween 1992, The Addams Family animated series served up “Puttergeist.” While the title references a certain Steven Spielberg horrorfest, the episode itself riffs on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Granny regales the family with a Halloween tale: four decades ago, a golfer hit the links on Halloween night, only to lose his head to a lightning strike. Thereafter he haunts the town as a specter with a giant golf ball for a head–quite a swerving from the pumpkin originally employed by Washington Irving.

 

In 1998 came the Canadian reboot The New Addams Family, whose series premiere “Halloween with the Addams Family” is a redux of the same-titled episode from the 60’s sitcom. Old gags are updated: Fester goes bobbing for hand grenades; Gomez wipes the smile off a jack-o’-lantern, carving a scarier expression with his fencing sword. Pugsley and Wednesday (dressed as Siskel and Ebert) wreak havoc on the neighborhood when they go trick-or-treating (one candy-stingy couple who foolishly demand a trick before handing out treats end up in a homemade electric chair rigged to their doorbell).

 

This survey of Halloween legacy should also make mention of the influence of the Addams Family on Ray Bradbury’s Elliott Family (a positively monstrous clan who, in the author’s classic story “Homecoming,” gather in an Illinois manse for a Halloween night reunion). In his afterword to his 2001 Elliott Family chronicle From the Dust Returned, Bradbury details his relationship with Charles Addams. Their plans for a book collaboration never came to fruition, but Addams did create an elaborate illustration of “Homecoming” when the story was first published in Mademoiselle.

 

For an outré crew like the Addams Family, every day is Halloween. But this First Family of Gothic comedy has also treated fans to plenty of October-31st-specific content over the years. I am eager to see if the forthcoming Wednesday follows this fine tradition.

 

 

 

…But Not On a High Note

The horror.

In contrast to the general critical response, I was actually very high on Halloween Kills. I thought the decentering of Laurie Strode was a welcome reprieve, and found the focus on Haddonfield’s townspeople (who have been haunted by Michael Myers’s violence for four decades) extremely intriguing. So I was looking forward to the finale of David Gordon Green’s modern trilogy, Halloween Ends, yet also felt somewhat nervous that the film wouldn’t stick the proverbial landing. I had no idea, though, just what an unentertaining mess this new release (in theaters, and streaming on Peacock) would turn out to be.

Unfortunately, the opening credits sequence (jack-o’-lantern focused, in the grand Halloween tradition) is the highlight of the entire movie.

The screenwriters would have the audience believe that Michael (who barely appears in this film) has been hiding out in the sewers of Haddonfield like some wannabe Pennywise for the past four years. After WTF?, the viewer’s next question is why?, but there’s no explanation for Michael’s uncharacteristic behavior other than a need to drive the inane plot of Halloween Ends. Writers Paul Brad Logan, Chris Bernier, and Danny McBride deserve to have Silver Shamrock masks glued to their heads for coming up with the moronic idea of giving the Shape a young psychopathic protégé. All of this is as confusing as it is unconvincing. On the one hand, the film seems committed to demythologizing Michael, presenting him less as a supernatural boogeyman than a wheezing geezer ready for the slasher nursing home. But at the same time, Michael is granted the power of magically passing his evil onto another person, as if transmitting a virus to someone unwise enough to practice social distancing (and who will soon be converted from an anti-masker).

Meanwhile, Haddonfield has degenerated into geographical eyesore (it’s telling that one of the film’s central sets is the town dump) and moral cesspool. The townspeople prove so nasty, so repulsive, they make the typical cast of a Rob Zombie film seem as lovable as Minions. Even Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak, who has matured into a mesmerizing beauty) loses the heroine qualities she displayed in the prior two films, coming off as surly and abrasive here. Haddonfield and its inhabitants have grown so ugly, the viewer almost wishes that the town would get burned to the ground, as Allyson and her love interest/Shape-in-training, Corey, discuss. The result is a film in which it is hard to find a character to root for.

The obvious choice would be Jamie Lee Curtis’s perennial final girl, Laurie Strode. But she spends most of the movie either composing her memoir (which, judging from the bits we get to see her write, is destined to be filled with platitudes and vapid psychobabble) or engaging in a burgeoning (and completely uninteresting) romance with retired officer Frank Hawkins. Again, the film appears unsure in its characterizations, as Laurie vacillates between the happy grandmother who at last has put aside her traumatic past, and the psychological “freak show” that Haddonfield unkindly labels her.

Fans might be willing to forgive the film’s innumerable flaws if it delivered on the one thing that people really came to see: a final, climactic face-off between Laurie and Michael. Yet even this promised battle proves a bitter disappointment. There’s no strategy employed, no suspense–just a knock-down, drag-out brawl within the close confines of Laurie’s kitchen. Sadly, the scene has all the sheer brutality of a bout of domestic violence, and allows for negligible catharsis.

As I sat watching Halloween Ends (which, surprisingly, premiered a night early on Peacock), I felt like the victim of an elaborate Halloween prank: no, this monstrosity of a film wasn’t the real one, just a bit of hoaxing misdirection before the release of the actual finale. Epically unappealing, Halloween Ends does a gross disservice to any promise raised by the prior two films, and disgraces the nearly-half-century legacy of the entire Halloween franchise.

 

Oh, Hell Yes!

Given the uneven track record of the Hellraiser series, and Hulu’s previous, middling venture into the realm of Clive Barker adaptation (Books of Blood), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the new David-Bruckner-directed (from a script by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski), reboot-billed film. With a runtime of almost two hours, 2022’s Hellraiser is the longest in the thirty-five-year history of the franchise. I’m thrilled to write that it is also the most coherently mapped (the film features several satisfying plot twists and build to a tension-filled extended climax) and skillfully crafted installment since the 1987 original.

Bruckner’s Hellraiser presents various intriguing updates of Barker’s debut film (and Hellbound: Hellraiser II as well). The infernal puzzle box is equipped with new configurations and inherent dangers (including a switchblade that seems to drug and incapacitate its victim like a predator’s sting), and enjoys a more elaborate mythology. In its concerns with drug addiction–the sobriety-challenged protagonist Riley strikes as a combination of plucky heroine Kirsty Cotton and her dissolute Uncle Frank–the film offers a fine variation on the theme of sexual obsession that drives the 1987 movie. This Hellraiser also creates many clever callbacks to the unforgettable scenes (e.g. the rending of Larry-skinned Frank) and signature lines (“What’s your pleasure?”) from Barker’s cinematic classic.

The updated set of Cenobites are both visually stunning and aurally arresting in their chattering, wheezing mutilation (appropriately, they bear names such as the Gasp and the Asphyx). But what of Pinhead, the instantly iconic character who has become the face, and heart, of the franchise? Actress Jamie Clayton casts a decidedly more feminine figure, right down to her scarified body/bodice and blood-painted fingernails. This lead Cenobite is slyly seductive (bearing shades of the archvillainess Julia in the first two Hellraisers).  Her delivery is low-pitched and gravelly (vs. Doug Bradley’s stentorian vocals), but the lines convey the same ominous philosophy for which the Hell Priest is renowned. Bradley’s embodiment of the role (one of the greatest performances in the history of horror film) can never be matched, but Clayton captures the character’s elegant menace while also taking “Pinhead” in fresh direction.

Exquisitely entertaining in its own right, this reimagining (which is flush with sinister surrealism and glorious grotesquerie alike) proves doubly delightful in the ways it bounces off its 1987 predecessor. Barker fans take heart: the new Hellraiser has such wonderfully dark sights to show you.

 

Hardly a Ringing Endorsement

The latest Stephen King adaptation, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, has just jumped into the  entertainment stream on Netflix. There are a few things I really liked about the movie. Lead actor (and King-film veteran) Jaeden Martell shines as the young, lonely, and morally-conflicted protagonist Craig. Mr. Harrigan’s mansion is stunningly realized (much more effectively than in King’s novella), but the same cannot be said for the character himself. Donald Sutherland gives a torpid and uncommanding performance as the titular wealthy retiree, and the sometimes-menacing aspect Mr. Harrigan’s personality is never adequately conveyed. Sluggishly paced, the film also evinces plenty of plot issues.

A certain clunkiness marks the proceedings. In the early scenes showing Craig performing his hired role as afternoon book-reader to Mr. Harrigan, subtitles identifying the various texts being read are flashed onscreen. Besides creating a distraction, the subtitles insult audience intelligence (the filmmakers seem to believe that viewers would never be able to recognize the chosen texts otherwise–even though the two main characters delve into discussion of them afterwards). Writer/director John Lee Hancock’s script also proves a little too on-the-nose in its thematics, such as in the scene when Sutherland’s character conspicuously speechifies that he always feels compelled to answer the call of a friend in need.

The magic of King’s source text resides in the author’s supreme storytelling, his ability to meld the narrative’s disparate elements. King effortlessly grafts a pulp horror motif (revenant vengeance, summoned by postmortem cell phone connection) onto a more literary, coming-of-age tale. The film, unfortunately, forms a much more uneven mix, and seems unsure of what is wants to be–a character study, or a supernatural thriller. Case in point: the handling of the death of Craig’s high school bully, Kenny (a miscast Cyrus Arnold: he’s a hulking galoot, for sure, but too goofy in his bearing to be truly intimidating). In the novella, Kenny’s death is listed as an accidental hanging during a bout of autoerotic asphyxiation, but hints at a more sinister cause (as Kenny’s hair is said to have turned white). Craig wonders if Mr. Harrigan’s ghoulish, beyond-the-grave figure appeared in Kenny’s dark closet and actually frightened the masturbator to death. None of this makes its way into the movie, making the foul Kenny’s death fairly uninteresting. Fans expecting typical King scares are apt to be disappointed (the film doesn’t aid its own cause, either, with a mid-Halloween-season release).

King’s novellas (versus his doorstopper novels) tend to make for the best film adaptations of his work. This one, though, will never enjoy a grouping with Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, or Secret WindowI have to call it like I see it: Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is watchable, but eminently unmemorable.

 

 

Middling Munsters

I am a huge fan of The Munsters, and count the 60’s sitcom as one of the formative influences on my macabre-loving career. I also enjoy Rob Zombie’s music (and many of his movies), so when word dropped that he would be adapting the series as a feature film, I was definitely intrigued. But also concerned: that Zombie’s graphic and grungy grindhouse aesthetic would make for a bad mix with the innocent silliness of the original series. So I ‘ve been nervously anticipating the release of the film (now streaming on Netflix) for months. My thoughts after finally screening it here on the eve of the October holiday season:

The Look: Initially, I worried that it would feel jarringly weird to watch The Munsters in color after decades of viewing the series in black-and-white syndication. But I found myself wowed by Zombie’s visuals; the colors he splashes across the screen are eye-poppingly vibrant. The scenes set in Transylvania present a mesmerizing blend of oldtime Universal-Horror vibe and modern neon glitz. And the scattering of Easter eggs evoking classic horror films (e.g. Nosferatu) provide an unexpected treat.

The Main Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie will never be mistaken for Meryl Streep, but she’s eerily endearing here in her turn as Lily Munster. Daniel Roebuck gives a spot-on portrayal of the Count role popularized by Al Lewis; it’s Roebuck’s performance that evokes the original sitcom most closely. My biggest issue is with Jeff Daniel Phillips’ Herman. The look of the character is fine (although at times his facial expressions of dismay make him seem painfully constipated), but he fails to capture the goofy charm of Fred Gwynne (a comedic genius whose embodiment of Herman might be one of the most underrated performances in TV history).

The Plot: Much of the film is centered on the Frankensteinian creation of Herman, and his courtship of/marriage to Lily. The problem, though, is that there’s not a lot of recognizable conflict driving the action (perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, as Zombie has never been a tight plotter as a screenwriter). There are too many superfluous characters and extraneous scenes that lead nowhere and make the film’s nearly two-hour runtime seem sluggishly paced. Also, the Munster clan’s coming to America doesn’t occur to the very end of the film, and as a result their iconic Gothic mansion barely appears (the scene of street celebration of Halloween on Mockingbird Lane is terrific, though, making me wonder if the film should have focused more exclusively on the holiday). The film’s ending, involving a sudden turn of fortune for the Munsters, is abrupt and unsatisfying. The Munsters, with its problematic plotting, seems to just stop rather than properly conclude.

The Humor: Granted, audience sensibilities have evolved since the 60’s, and the same old wig-flipping gags would feel outdated today. Still, the film’s humor (which includes a couple of questionable forays into the risque) reflects poorly on the original series. There are some chuckle-worthy moments, for certain, but never an elicitation of riotous laughter. The comedy is mostly strained, and occasionally downright lame (the ostensible jokes involving Jorge Garcia’s Floop character are painful to behold).

The Verdict: Munster purists won’t be pleased, but Zombie does deserve credit for attempting to put his own stamp on the adaptation, rather than just offering a by-the-numbers retread. His own adoration of The Munsters cannot be questioned. That being said, this vehicle (speaking of which, Zombie’s failure to feature the Dragula is surprising) proves passably entertaining at best. Unlike the classic sitcom, the film is not one that viewers will rush to re-watch over and over for years to come.

 

Burton Bastardization

The new film Raven’s Hollow (now streaming on Shudder) no doubt conveys autumnal ominousness (e.g., supernaturally gusting leaves, human scarecrow sacrifices). Not only in its title, but also in its very plot–which has West Point cadet Edgar Poe investigating a series of bizarre murders in the remote, specter-haunted New York village of Raven’s Hollow–the film evokes Tim Burton’s 1999 classic Sleepy Hollow. Unfortunately, such parallels only accentuate how much Raven’s Hollow pales in comparison to its illustrious Gothic-horror predecessor.

Whereas Sleepy Hollow is steeped in charming ambience and wicked wit, Raven’s Hollow proves bleak and joyless. The film gets off to a gripping start, but then bogs down in a sluggishly-paced, folk-horror-style plot (involving a legendary local entity called the Raven). The cast, led by William Mosely as Poe and Melanie Zanetti as Charlotte Ingram (echoing Christina Ricci’s role as romantic interest/suspected witch Katrina Van Tassel in Sleepy Hollow), gives largely lethargic performances. The climax underwhelms, in terms of both its revelations and its visuals. Suspect use of CGI creates the feel of a made-for-Syfy movie, aligning Raven’s Hollow more with the ridiculous (2007”s Headless Horseman) than the sublime (Sleepy Hollow).

Disappointing on several levels, Raven’s Hollow employs facile allusions to the work of Edgar Allan Poe throughout (e.g., a stable hand who is named Usher just because; a mutilated body that is hidden under the floorboards for no reason really relevant to the plot). Also, the film’s positing that Poe’s experiences in Raven’s Hollow inspired him to produce his masterpiece poem decades later is unconvincing and arguably nonsensical (considering the actual content of “The Raven”).

Raven’s Hollow gets the fall season of spooky viewing off to a lackluster start. Hopefully, there will be much better fare to sample in the weeks ahead–and also later this year, when another film featuring Poe as a young cadet/murder investigator (The Pale Blue Eye) lands in theaters and streams on Netflix.

 

Mob Scene: Midnight Mass

Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass (which evokes both Salem’s Lot and Storm of the Century) is not only the best Stephen King miniseries not actually based on one of King’s works. This convention-reworking vampire narrative also presents an extensive variation on an angry mob scene.

Deliberately paced and highly philosophical (pondering existential questions such as the meaning of life and what happens when we die), the series works as a slow burn, but builds to a blazing climax over the final episode and a half. Midway through the penultimate episode, “Ch. VI Acts of the Apostles,” the faithful of Crockett Island trek toward St. Patrick’s Church (during a slyly arranged, island-wide blackout) for the titular Easter vigil. They carry candles and sing hymns, the image of their peaceful procession forming a stark contrast to the fiery chaos that is about to erupt.

As the mass begins, Father Hill reveals that he is actually the rejuvenated Monsignor Pruitt, and explains that the cause of the miraculous revitalizations that have spread through the congregation came from sampling the blood of an angel (a winged, vampiric creature that the religiously-minded Pruitt has mistaken as holy). The next phase of the revival now involves the parishioners willfully imbibing poisoned communion wine, dying and then being reborn into earthly immortality shortly thereafter. A successful demonstration convinces many of those gathered to partake, and that’s when proverbial hell breaks loose. The gun-toting sheriff tries to stop his son from poisoning himself, but is tackled to ground by a group of mass attendees. When another protagonist picks up the gun and shoots Pruitt, the dark angel flies down the aisle and snatches her off. Oh, and the undead arise as bloodthirsty savages, impulsively pouncing on their unpoisoned brethren.

The spillage of the macabre mob from the church precipitates most of the action of the concluding episode, “Revelation.” Under the cover of night and the blackout, the vampire brood swoops across the island, attacking nonmembers of St. Patrick’s and violently converting them. The so-called pious have become the monsters here; these riotous villagers, interestingly, also happen to be the ones wielding the torches. Directed by the maniacal, Book-of-Revelations-quoting church member Bev, they toss Molotov cocktails and burn the innocent out of their homes. But the zealot is overzealous in her scheming, and every structure on the small island ends up razed, so that the vampiric congregation (whose plan is to boat off the island in the coming nights and spread their ghastly gospel on the mainland) has nowhere to take shelter come dawn. The monsters end up torched after all, not by vigilante villagers but rather the rising sun.

Midnight Mass divided audiences when it premiered last fall on Netflix, as many viewers found the show too slow-paced and talky (characters are prone to long monologues/homilies). Over time, though, this clever and thought-provoking series might come to be regarded as Flanagan’s masterwork. I found it absolutely gripping, and loved it from its mysterious opening episodes to its wild mob scene climax.

 

Horripilation Compilation

Unabashed admission: I’m a complete geek for books, TV programs, or streaming series that gather, rank, and analyze the best that the horror genre has to offer. Projects such as The Book of Lists: HorrorHorror: 100 Best BooksHorror: Another 100 Best BooksBravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments, and Eli Roth’s History of Horror. So it’s no shocker that I have been eagerly anticipating the new Shudder series, The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time, whose first episode debuted this week.

101 Scariest clearly emulates the format of Bravo’s 100 Scariest, combining commentary with classic horror film clips. But 101 also one-ups its predecessor in a few regards. The role of talking head is embodied by various writers, actors, directors, and film scholars, whereas the Bravo countdown mixed in a lot of pop cultural personalities and joke-cracking comedians (figures with questionable connection to the genre) into its cast of commentators. 101 also seems committed to offering more serious analysis of the films under discussion, addressing not just the nature of the scare but also considering the construction of the particular movie scene containing it.

It will be interesting to see how 101‘s completed list ultimately compares to that compiled by the 2004 Bravo show (and its follow-ups, 30 Even Scarier Movie Moments [2006] and 13 Scarier Movie Moments [2009]). Perhaps I will pursue such comparison in a future post.

An eight-episode series, The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time streams a new installment every Wednesday on Shudder up until Halloween.

Official Trailer:

Dracula Extrapolated: Dracula Untold

Exploring various instances of the novel Dracula‘s undying afterlife, considering specific examples in literature and visual media of the rewriting (e.g. sequels, prequels, alternate histories, shifted narrative perspectives, supporting character foregroundings) and development (elaborations/variations on the vampiric-invasion “plot”) of Bram Stoker’s source text.

 

What if Dracula deliberately chose to become a bloodsucker, but for noble reasons?

Hollywood has a long history of romanticizing Bram Stoker’s gruesome vampire, transforming him into a debonair yet debauched Gothic hero-villain. But 2014’s Dracula Untold (less a horror vehicle than a dark fantasy action film) skews Stoker’s original characterization even further, by making Dracula the actual protagonist of the piece. A brave (if sometimes ferocious) warrior, a devoted family man, and determined defender of his countrymen, he is clearly cut from heroic cloth here.

Fresh from starring in The Hobbit films, Luke Evans portrays the Transylvanian prince Vlad (Drscula Untold perpetuates the error of equating Stoker’s fictional creation with the historical Vlad the Impaler), “Son of the Dragon. Protector of the Innocent.” That latter title is put to the test, by the imperial evils of the Ottoman Turks. Unsatisfied with tributes of silver, the sultan Mehmed demands the surrender of 1000 Transylvanian boys (who will be enslaved and trained as fighters for the Turks). For good measure, Vlad’s own son Ingeras must be given to Mehmed to raise. Vlad violently refuses, sparking a war with the empire (which is already geared to march across Europe).

To save his homeland and its inhabitants from an imminent bloodbath, Vlad seeks out a monster previously encountered atop Broken Tooth Mountain. This “Master Vampire” (chillingly embodied by Charles Dance–Tywin Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones) has been trapped in a cave there by the same Faustian bargain that granted him his dark powers. He agrees to let the desperate Vlad taste-test the vampiric lifestyle, but is careful to spell out the conditions of the transaction: “If you can resist [drinking blood] for three days, you will return to your mortal state.” If not, Vlad will become “a scourge on this earth, destined to destroy everything [he] hold[s] dear” (and the Master Vampire will be freed from his prison, to take vengeance against the demon that tricked him long ago).

Vlad takes unholy communion, goes through his momentary death throes, and is reborn as a nosferatu superhero. He now has the promised “strength of a hundred men. The speed of a falling star. Dominion over the night and all its creatures. [The ability] to see and hear through their senses. Even heal grievous wounds.” The Turk-decimating Vlad practically forms a one-man battalion, someone who also possesses the neat ability (the film makes fine use of CGI) to morph into a horde of bats.

The premise of Dracula Untold incites some interesting narrative conflict, as Vlad has to fight not just the Turks but also time (his battles each night must be won by sunrise) and his own unnatural urges. Even as he leads his people in rebellion against the Turks, he struggles to keep his vampiric traits secret from them. When he fails to do so, his countrymen–with classic cries of “Kill the monster!”–put his tent to the torch. This angry mob scene concludes with a unique twist, though, as the not-so-easily-dispatched Vlad emerges from the fiery ruins to verbally chastise the ungrateful uprisers.

Of course, Vlad can’t quite make it through the requisite three days of fasting, but even his eventual slaking of his terrible bloodthirst is given a heroic spin. His dying wife (who was tossed over a cliff by Mehmed’s minions) convinces Vlad to drink her vital fluids, so he will be strong enough to go rescue their son (who has been captured by Mehmed). This sets up a climactic swordfight with the sultan, who cleverly levels the battleground by strewing silver coins (a baneful drain on Vlad’s vampiric powers) beneath his feet. Nonetheless, the undead swashbuckler overcomes adversity and emerges victorious (with the villainous Mehmed suffering some satisfying bloodshed).

For Dracula purists, Dracula Untold might steer Stoker’s original storyline too far off course. Still, the film (directed by Gary Shore, from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’s script) deserves credit for its commitment to offering a new take on the hoary figure. Fast-paced and filled with frightfully-framed fight scenes, it’s a quintessential popcorn flick. Entertainment-hungry viewers won’t regret gnoshing on this one one bit.