‘Revenant: Critical and Creative Studies of the Supernatural’ is a peer-reviewed, online journal looking at the supernatural, the uncanny and the weird. “Revenant’ is now accepting articles, creative writing pieces and book, film, game, event or art reviews for a themed issue on folk horror, guest edited by Dr. Dawn Keetley.
I have heard myself say that a house with a death in it can never again be bought or sold by the living. It can only be borrowed from the ghosts who have stayed behind.
I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House begins with the anticipation of certain death. In this 2016 Netflix original, directed by Osgood Perkins, Lily Saylor (Ruth Wilson) enters the house of the dying author, Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), to serve as her live-in nurse. Lily spends solitary months caring for Ms. Blum, and the film follows her at a sometimes excruciating pace. Ms. Blum refuses to call her anything but Polly, whom Lily learns is the lead character in one of Blum’s books: a character who suffered a horrible murder but whose ending was never fully told. The ghost of this character (Lucy Boynton) begins following Lily about the house, unbeknownst to her. The death that the house has been waiting for becomes three as Polly’s end is briefly shown, Lily never reaches her 29th year (as she predicts in the first few minutes of the film), and Ms. Blum dies without her caregiver. The film slowly unravels the theme of three different relationships in regards to these deaths: 1) that of the dying and a caregiver, 2) 1) that of an artist with her work, and 3) that of the living with the dead. Ultimately, these relationships grow so neatly and subtly tangled that they become inseparable
Directed by Craig Anderson, Red Christmas premiered in Australia in the summer of 2016 and became widely available in the US (on DVD and streaming) in October 2017. When I say that Red Christmas is disturbing—even unpleasant—I’m in no way saying you shouldn’t watch this film; indeed, it seems poised to become a holiday classic. It’s disturbing and unpleasant in the way horror films should be, and it joins a pantheon of similarly disturbing holiday films, not least Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (Charles E. Sellier, Jr., 1984). To the extent that horror films make manifest what we repress and deny, the holidays (which demand extra helpings of repression and denial if mass mayhem is to be avoided) are undeniably ripe for the most disturbing of horror films. Enter, Red Christmas.
There is a special challenge in generating a successful sequel. You have to delicately balance the desires and demands of your fans, while also giving them something new. In season two of Stranger Things, The Duffer brothers deliver a beautiful follow-up that is, arguably, even better than the first season. As any tantalizing finale should, the first season of Stranger Things left us with a myriad of lingering questions. “Is the gate to the Upside Down still open?” “What happened to Eleven?” “Where are the kids numbered 1-10?” “Oh God, is Will vomiting inter-dimensional slugs into his sink?” “Will Dustin’s teeth finally come in?” Blissfully, these questions are all answered by the end of the first episode of season two; there aren’t many resolutions we must await. We begin almost a year after Will’s rescue from the Upside Down, and Eleven’s apparent disappearance into it. Back in Right-Side Up Hawkins, things are relatively quiet. Naturally, our characters are still dealing with some fallout from season one. Will is plagued by periodic “episodes” that seem to transport him, psychically, to the Upside Down. Every night for about 350 days, Mike tries to contact Eleven via his walkie-talkie. Hopper is visited by a reporter investigating the conspiracy surrounding the disappearance of Barb Holland, before he’s called about an attack on local crops that make pumpkins look suspiciously like hatched xenomorph-eggs.
With his classic suspense film Halloween from 1978, John Carpenter launched the slasher subgenre into the mainstream. The low-budget horror picture introduced iconic Michael Myers as an almost otherworldly force of evil, stalking and killing babysitters in otherwise peaceful Haddonfield. It featured a bare-bones plot, a simple, haunting musical score composed by Carpenter himself, some truly nerve-wracking editing and cinematography, and it spawned a deluge of sequels, prequels, rip-offs, and homages. There’d be no Scream films without Halloween, no Friday the 13th franchise, no “rules for surviving a horror film.” Cinema—suspense and horror cinema in particular—would be a lot poorer without Mr. Carpenter’s massive influence.
Halloween is now hailed as a masterpiece of horror, consistently showing up on “Best Horror Films” lists, but it has also sparked controversy over alleged misogyny and sadism. In this film, some critics argued, young women are punished for having premarital sex—all but the chaste “Final Girl.” Michael Myers, they claimed, was an agent of conservative morality, and viewers indulged misogynistic, sadistic pleasures by identifying with him. But that approach is misguided. Myers is an agent of pure, anti-social evil, and the characters who are killed are the ones who fail to be vigilant. The film does not invite us to identify with Myers—it invites us to identify with his victims. The pleasure of watching Halloween is the peculiar pleasure of vicarious immersion into a world torn apart by horror.
I spoke to Mr. Carpenter as research for my book, and the rest of this blog post is a transcription of that conversation.