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Posted on November 14, 2017

Interview with John Carpenter: Horror Films Reinforce Our Fear Instincts

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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.

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Posted on November 10, 2017

Eighties Nostalgia in Stranger Things

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In recent horror, eighties nostalgia has seemingly reached a fever pitch. The cinematic remake of the 90’s television miniseries based on the Steven King novel It (2017) noticeably shifts the timeframe of the original story from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. In fact, the film goes out of its way to remind viewers of 80’s sights and sounds, particularly the decade’s movies. In one scene, the camera passes over the lone movie theatre of the small town whose marquee promotes:  Lethal Weapon 2, Batman, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. However, the binge-worthy Netflix series, Stranger Things, takes its love of 80’s film even further. A poster for the decade’s remake of The Thing (1982) appears on a wall in a character’s home, and in the second season, the boys all dress up as characters from the Ghostbusters movies. But more than that, the series employs elements of 80’s movies so much so that they become crucial to the series’ plot. Is this just lazy script writing or is something else at work here?

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Posted on November 6, 2017

Behind the Eclipse: Complicating Sexual Assault in Gerald’s Game

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Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game (2017) is, shot for shot, one of the most loyal Stephen King adaptations to hit the screen. The premise of the film and the novel (1992) is, for Stephen King, very simple. Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood) travel to their secluded lake house in an attempt to save their failing marriage. Gerald’s solution to their sexual stagnation is a pair of handcuffs. Jessie plays along with his game, witnesses her husband’s fatal heart attack, and finds herself alone.  The terror of the story, like its protagonist, is confined. The book and the film are compelling, however, because the terror is not in the house or the ravenous dog feasting on Gerald’s decaying body. For Jessie, the fear is spawned by being bound and alone, with only the repressed terror of her past.

In Gerald’s Game, Stephen King crafts one of his most feminist novels. His original intention was to pair the story with Dolores Claiborne (1992) as they both take place at (the fictional) Dark Score Lake during a full solar eclipse. Unfortunately, the pairing never happened, but we did end up with two separate books that work well in establishing a purely feminine viewpoint within the Stephen King universe. In Gerald’s Game, Jessie Burlingame becomes our window into a world that has been darkened by broken trust and a darkened sun.

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Posted on October 13, 2017

Why You Need to Watch the Child’s Play Franchise

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The Chucky movies get a bad rap. Honestly, any horror film that openly embraces comedy has an uphill battle when it comes to critical recognition. Most people will simply write off Child’s Play and its six sequels because of its killer-doll premise, its parade of one-liners, or its simple longevity. How could a franchise with this much ridiculousness possibly be good?

That kind of thinking is a huge disservice to the franchise. Why? Because the Chucky films have spanned generations, outlived most of their contemporaries, and evolved into one of the most interesting franchises in horror history. Its secret weapon is the seeming contradiction of constant reinvention within remarkable consistency.

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Posted on October 4, 2017

31 Found-Footage Horror Films for October

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Found-footage horror has been one of the most creative and provocative subgenres of horror since Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez released The Blair Witch Project in 1999. For your Halloween viewing, our guest writer Brooke Bennett has created a calendar of the best found-footage horror for you to watch in October. You can download the calendar as a pdf document (just in case you don’t get through them all in October). We hope you enjoy them–and feel free to jump onto the comments section and post your thoughts about our choices, along with any films we omitted. What found-footage horror films do you think should be on every horror fan’s list?

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