I initially delved into these movies with the aim of revisiting some great horror comedy. What I unearthed instead was an instruction manual for becoming a man in the 1980’s. These texts are just as rich with gender ideals as uncovering a 1950s Ladies Home Journal. Within both films I noticed a not so subtle description of what passes for appropriate masculinity. The narratives are different but the trajectory of the leading man is the same. In House, Roger Cobb (William Katt) has to overcome his failures in Vietnam to become man enough to have his family back. Similarly in House II Jesse (Arye Gross) isn’t even worthy enough to have a family until he butches up. Cue up your Betamax and your VHS as we are going to revisit the 1980s version of how to become a man.
Tony Todd is a horror great. Although he’s starred in many films and TV series, his claim to fame, in my view, rests mostly on Night of the Living Dead (Tom Savini, 1990), Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992), and Final Destination 1 & 2 (2000, 2003). What Todd has done so well—his signature—is to create characters who inhabit borders. The characters he plays are often stuck between the living and the dead, between monstrous and tragically human. He has thus consistently epitomized one of the things horror films crucially do as horror films—that is, disrupt boundaries we think are fixed, sending our familiar and fixed categories into disarray. Read more
It’s hard to overestimate the profound effect of the TV on American culture; it may be rivaled only by the Internet or the smart phone. Television was introduced into US homes in the late 1940s and, according to James Baughman, “No other household technology, not the telephone or indoor plumbing, had ever spread so rapidly into so many homes.” The “number of homes with TVs increased from 0.4 percent in 1948,” Baughman writes, “to 55.7 percent in 1954 and to 83.2 percent four years later.” By the mid-1950s, “‘Television had established its place as the most important single form of entertainment and of passing the time.’”[i]
Given the rate at which TVs spread through US homes, it’s actually rather surprising that they don’t make an appearance in a horror film until George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968—a decade after they had insinuated themselves into over 83% of our homes. (Having said that, I’m eager to hear from people who know of horror films before 1968 that weave TV into their plot.) Since 1968, the TV has been a regular in the horror film, and so here I just want to sketch out some of the highlights of TV’s role in US horror, tracking how it has manifest our culture’s changing anxieties about that box that has transfixed us for almost 60 years. And if that last sentence sounds elegiac, it is—because TV’s power is on the wane. Read more
R 86 mins. Bryan Bertino USA 2008
I have recently been exploring a sub-genre of horror that used to terrify me—the home invasion film. I created a list of some of my favorites so far (most of them on the milder side as far as violence and sadism goes), and I heard from a lot of people about other films I should watch. One that came highly recommended was The Strangers, a 2008 film directed by Bryan Bertino. I want to say thank you to those who recommended the film, because it is indeed exceptional. Read more
James Whale’s Frankenstein was released on November 21, 1931—85 years ago. The film not only began the American horror tradition but has remained enormously generative. Its influence can be seen not only in its contemporaries, like King Kong (1933), but also in films of the 1950s such as The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and in still later horror monsters such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface (Tobe Hooper, 1974) and Halloween’s mute and malevolent Michael Myers (John Carpenter, 1978).
Frankenstein has also clearly had a powerful influence on the zombie film: it’s hard not to see the specter of Henry Frankenstein’s creation in the first “ghoul” of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), for instance. Both Frankenstein’s creature and Romero’s ghouls were born in the graveyard, born from humans doing what they should not. Read more